For years and years parents have taken their children to zoos to see exotic animals, animals that they don’t get to see everyday. They want to see lions and tigers and bears. Oh my! High on the the list of animals to be seen are elephants, nature’s gentle giants. These cute, (hardly) cuddly animals are the largest of the land mammals. But all of that could change. Elephants could be removed from zoos forever if In Defense of Animals (IDA) and a handful of scientists and activists get their way.
June 20 highlighted the International Day of Action for Elephants in Zoos. In Defense of Animals (IDA) and activists in over 30 cities worldwide (including L.A., Washington D.C., and more) participated in a day of demonstration to inform the public about the travesty of keeping Dumbo locked up – even Salt Lake City had one demonstrator brave the torrential rain in order to bring justice to our big grey friends.
Elliot M. Katz, DVM, President of IDA said that “Zoos can no longer ignore the mounting scientific evidence of the devastating effects of captivity on elephants.” Infanticide, Herpes and tuberculosis are just a few of the ailments prevalent in captive elephants, and zoo populations are not self sustaining, unlike populations in natural environments.
On their day of demonstration, IDA wanted to focus on the fact that it isn’t so much about kind or unkind keepers or members of the public, but about outdated policy. Elephants just aren’t meant for the cage (unlike birds and snakes and the like, which thrive in small, cramped and confined areas).
Here are some facts about elephants as presented by IDA:
- Wild elephants walk long distances daily in home ranges measuring hundreds of square miles. The typical zoo exhibit confines elephants to a few acres or less.
- Zoos drastically shorten the lives of both African and Asian elephants.
- Over half the elephants who died in Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited zoos since 2000 did not reach the age of 40; wild elephants live 60-70 years.
- Elephants in zoos suffer serious health and psychological problems, including chronic foot infections, arthritis, abnormal behaviors, early infertility, high infant mortality and stillbirth rates.
I understand that elephants aren’t meant for the cage. No city zoo is large enough to provide elephants with the space that they need to roam. But elephants aren’t the only ones. What about lions? And tigers? And bears? Oh my! It seems as though no zoo is big enough to comfortably hold any of these cute and cuddly animals, let alone the not so cute nor cuddly creatures that claim their residence at the local zoo. And suppose there was a zoo large enough; it would take hours (or luck) for patrons to find the animals they want to see.
So, what is to be done? Should elephants be released? Should zoos be done away with? Or is it OK to bring the wilderness to the inner city and give kids the chance to smile when they see a real-life elephant for the first time?
Photo Credit: Adam Foster | Codefor via flickr under Creative Commons License