Elephants do not belong in zoos.
As Rachel Mathews, Deputy Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement at the Peta Foundation, noted in a Moving Giants feature published this past fall, “Zoos are simply not able to offer elephants the kinds of conditions that elephants need to thrive — or to lead long healthy lives. In captivity, they are forced to live in habitats that are measured in square feet — not in square miles. Elephants normally would have a habitat the size of Chicago, but now have half an acre.”
Now there is mounting empirical evidence that elephants are dying in captivity at a consistent rate, of seven a year in North America. According to a running count by the animal-rights group Peta, which is a Moving Giants “Elephant Champion,” 35 elephants have died in Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA)-accredited North American zoos over the last five years (excluding newborns and infants under the age of 2).
Seven have passed away in 2018, as of today (December 18), including most recently Lily of the Oregon Zoo. Three of the elephants that died this year were euthanized: Maxine (Bronx Zoo) after falling progressively ill.; Sunda (Topeka Zoo) after she was unable to get up; and Rolinda (Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, Texas) after she was seen down in her exhibit.
“The lives of elephants in zoos typically are far shorter than their 70-year life expectancy,” the organization noted. “More than half of the 76 elephants who have died [at AZA-accredited facilities since 2000] never even reached the age of 40.”
The Oregon, Bronx and Topeka zoos have all, in recent years, also made a rather dubious achievement: each was named to the In Defense of Animals (another Moving Giants “Elephant Champion”) annual list of the worst zoos in North America.
“While most zoos that house elephants deserve to be on the Top 10,” the organization noted on its website, “In Defense of Animals considers a number of factors to narrow down the list. These factors include: health problems, lack of space, cold climates, unnatural behaviors, social issues between elephants, solitary elephants, breeding issues, premature deaths, and mismanagement.”