Contributed by Marielle Grenade-Willis
Yesterday, the Guardian published exclusive footage of elephants being gathered from Zimbabwe to be transported to Chinese zoos. Although taking elephants from the wild is legal in Zimbabwe, corralling is extremely stressful for the herd, as young elephants are siphoned off from the rest with sedative ammunition fired from a helicopter. To stop other elephants from interfering with the tranquilized elephants, the helicopter “dive-bombs the immediate vicinity so the rest of the herd, attempting to come to the aid of the fallen animal, are kept at bay.” In the video, you see how poorly the captured elephants are treated while being hoisted from the ground and crammed into small holding pens for transport. The handlers are even shown hitting and kicking one of the elephants to shift its position inside the vehicle.
On numerous occasions throughout the article, Joyce Poole, renowned elephant ethologist, notes how the captured elephants are showing signs of fear and stress. In her seminal book, Meeting the Interests of Elephants, Poole explains how elephants are some of the most sentient, social, and innovative animals on the planet, after spending years watching them in Amboseli National Park in Kenya. “No matter what the arena– foraging, defending, socializing or reproducing– an elephant’s daily life is distinguished by need, purpose, challenge, choice, will, autonomy and camaraderie. These elements, so fundamental to the lives of wild elephants, are currently all but absent in captivity.”
In conjunction with this news release, an op-ed piece by Philip Hoare, advocates strongly for the end of all zoos in light of 500 animals who have died in less than four years at the South Lakes Safari Zoo in Cumbria, England. The zoo has been cited for numerous violations related to animal-patron interactions, the death of a keeper by a tiger, and the spread of diseases such as chlamydia in its animal populations. Clearly, South Lakes Safari Zoo is a poster child for everything that is wrong with zoos, and especially why elephants should not be kept in them. Captive elephants experience a range of psychological and physiological issues such as “obesity, arthritis, foot problems and reproductive and psychological disorders” that are not present when living in the wild. To top it off, elephants in zoos are also much more susceptible to the transmission of elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus which can prove fatal for young elephants. Nothing exonerates our choice to place an elephant in a zoo when we are fully aware that the space we are providing can never accommodate this magnificent animal’s full spectrum of capabilities.