The United Kingdom plans to ban the captivity of elephants in zoos and safaris. The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which is expected to pass later this year, seeks to protect captive animals from unnatural treatment. Introduced by environment minister Zac Goldsmith, the bill cites that elephants are highly social animals, and the zoo environment negatively impacts their lives.
A report about the welfare of elephants in captivity has been prepared, showing that it is not possible to satisfy the needs of such highly social animals in captivity. The report has identified that elephants already suffer a wide range of ailments in captivity, including arthritis, mental degradation and hernias.
Statistics show that the overall lifespan of elephants in captivity is much lower than that of elephants in the wild. In the wild, elephants have a life expectancy of about 50 years, but the expectancy is cut down to just 17 years in captivity. For animals that need about 30 miles of foraging each day, there are no zoos with sufficient space to allow this type of freedom.
Elephant biologist Audrey Delsink has been studying elephant populations in South Africa for years and knows what it takes to keep the animals healthy. One of the key factors is that elephants need space to forage and socialize.
“Elephants are highly intelligent, extremely social, sentient beings with complex family structures and bonds that last a lifetime,” said Delsink, Wildlife Director of Humane Society International (HSI)/Africa, as reported by VegNews. “They require space to roam freely with other elephants where they can express normal elephant behaviours and thrive emotionally and physically.”
Today, there are about 51 elephants living in zoos in the U.K. The proposed law will not affect the elephants currently in captivity but will rather prohibit the introduction of other elephants to zoos as well as further breeding for captivity. Once the captive elephants die, they will not be replaced.
In 2020, the U.K. also banned the inclusion of wild animals in circuses to prevent animal cruelty. Many animals, including elephants, also suffer cruelty at the hands of humans in the name of entertainment. Apart from elephants, other creatures, particularly marine mammals, have been kept in tight spaces, a situation that affects their health and lifespan. Delsink said these creatures must be considered for protection, too.
“Marine mammals also suffer whilst in captivity as they too are highly social, long-lived beings and are unable to carry out their natural behaviours to their full capacity,” Delsink said. “Like elephants, marine mammals try to cope with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviours known as ‘stereotypies’—repetitive, purposeless habits to combat stress and boredom.”
Image via Zachary Spears