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For Immediate Release: 02/06/08

Infant Elephant Calf Death at San Diego Wild Animal Park Sparks Call for End to Elephant Breeding and Live Imports

Sacramento, CA — The San Diego Wild Animal Park’s participation in the 2003 capture and import of 7 out of 11 African elephants from Swaziland — despite the willingness of African reserves to accept the animals — has claimed another victim: a sickly two-month-old calf born to a female Swazi elephant at the park.

This latest death adds to the toll of three older African elephants — Peaches, Tatima and Wanky — who were mercilessly shipped from sunny San Diego, where they had spent most of their lives — to frigid Chicago in order to make room for the new, younger elephants from Africa. All three older elephants died within two years of the transfer to Chicago.

In response to this latest death, the Save Wild Elephants Coalition, which opposed the Swazi elephant import and included the groups Born Free Foundation, In Defense of Animals, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Born Free USA, and the Animal Welfare Institute, issued the following statement:

The seven Swazi elephants sent to the San Diego Wild Animal Park should never have been brought to the United States. Two natural-habitat refuge parks in Africa offered to accept these elephants and keep them in free-ranging conditions, but that ‘in-Africa’ option was rejected.

The captive breeding of elephants is a dismal failure — many of captive pregnancies end in tragedy like Monday’s death. Zoos waste hundreds of millions of dollars housing roughly 300 elephants, and while many wild elephants endure poaching and habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation throughout Africa and Asia, successful conservation of elephants can only take place by overcoming the challenges of the wild.

If zoos truly cared about elephants they would put their considerable resources behind real conservation, which involves habitat protection, anti-poaching efforts, and human/elephant conflict mitigation, instead of importing or attempting to breed more elephants for display. Indeed, for the money zoos spend to house a few hundred elephants in the U.S., they could save entire populations of elephants in Africa and Asia.

It's time for zoos to acknowledge that keeping elephants in captivity is deadly for the individuals involved. This baby is the latest victim of the zoo industry's misplaced desire to display elephants. The public are becoming aware of the abysmal history of elephants in captivity — low breeding, reduced longevity, compromised welfare, abnormal behavior — it’s time for a change.

The Save Wild Elephants Coalition is calling for an immediate halt to zoo elephant breeding programs and a ban on importing these animals into zoos where they all too often sicken and die prematurely.

Editor’s Notes:

Since 2001, at least 15 elephant pregnancies in U.S. zoos have ended in stillbirths or other complications, including the deaths of calves during labor, euthanasia of a premature calf, and the failure of captive born elephants to thrive, resulting in 15 dead babies and four dead mothers. On Jan. 25, a full-term calf died in utero at Ft. Worth Zoo, in a tragedy that also claimed the life of the mother. The infant mortality rate for elephants in U.S. zoos (ages 0–1) is four times higher than that of documented free-ranging populations in Africa and Asia.

The mother of the calf that died on Monday as SDWP is also reported to be in a vary poor state of health and may not survive.

The 2007 national census in elephants in Kenya indicated a rise of 4% since the previous survey taking the total to more than 30,000 elephants for the country. This puts into context the “so-called” captive-breeding conservation efforts of zoos.


Suzanne Roy, In Defense of Animals, 919-697-9389
Will Travers, Born Free Foundation, 202-285-1185
Zibby Wilder, Born Free USA, 916-267-7266
Debbie Leahy, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Cathy Liss, Animal Welfare Institute

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