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For Immediate Release: 12/12/08

New Reports Expose the Truth about Captive Elephants

Born Free USA Calls for Immediate Zoo Reform

Washington, DC — Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute (Born Free USA), a national leader in wildlife conservation and animal advocacy, today called for an end to the keeping of elephants in American zoos, following publication of two new scientific reports that reveal shocking data on the poor welfare of elephants in captivity.

“These new statistics on captive elephants will send shockwaves throughout the zoo world. They confirm what Born Free USA and others have been saying for years — elephants are not a suitable species for lifetime confinement in zoos,” says Will Travers, CEO of Born Free USA and the UK-based Born Free Foundation.

The figures say it all. Elephants in European Zoos live on average 23 to 39 years shorter lives than their wild and semi-wild counterparts. Additionally, breeding rates remain abysmally low (with infant mortality rates near 40%) and numerous elephants in zoos display an alarming range of physical and mental disorders. Elephants in zoos are affected by a range of maladies including herpes, obesity, chronic foot problems, and psychological distress.

Born Free USA and the Born Free Foundation are calling for immediate measures to address the problem. These include:

  1. An immediate ban on the import of wild elephants.
  2. A moratorium on captive breeding.
  3. Funding the relocation and care of isolated elephants from the worst zoos to recognized elephant sanctuaries.
  4. Development of measures to improve all aspects of welfare for the elephants remaining in US zoos.

“This is quite simply this is one of the most shocking indictments of the performance of zoos I have ever seen — and I have been studying this for more than 20 years,” Travers continues. “Sadly, it seems likely that the situation faced by elephants in US zoos may be even worse!”

Born Free USA senior vice president Adam Roberts, who coordinates the organization’s Zoo Check campaign, questions the cost of keeping elephants in captivity. “If they can’t get it right while investing hundreds of millions of dollars on new elephant enclosures, maybe it’s time to admit once and for all that elephants don’t belong in zoos,” Roberts says.

Furthermore, he contends, the money spent on small zoo enclosures for elephants could do infinitely more to conserve elephants in their natural habitat. In the last ten years, US zoos have spent in excess of $500 million on elephant exhibits for their 250 or so animals. By contrast, the Kenya Wildlife Service has an annual operating budget of around $20 million to devote to the protection of more than 30,000 wild elephants in a National Parks system covering more than six million acres.

At a time when city finances are particularly tight, plans by Los Angeles Zoo, the Dallas Zoo, and others to spend tens of millions of dollars on new elephant facilities seem wasteful and misguided. “Far better to move elephants from the worst captive conditions to sanctuaries at a fraction of the cost, improve some facilities in the short term to make the lives of their inmates more stimulating, and implement a policy of non-replacement that would lead to an end of the keeping of elephants in zoos within the next 30 years or so,” Roberts concludes.

Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute is a leading non-profit animal advocacy organization working to conserve and protect wildlife in the US and globally through legislation, litigation, and public education. Born Free USA is a nationally recognized leader on exotic animal legislation and a member of the Captive Wild Animal Protection Coalition and the Species Survival Network. More information can be found at www.bornfreeusa.org.


Zibby Wilder, Born Free USA, 916.267.7266

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