Wild vs Captive
What Elephants Need
As one of the most intelligent mammals on the planet, elephants have immensely complex needs that no zoo, circus or other attraction can provide. Life in captivity is torture for these sensitive creatures that require tight social bonds and have strong migratory instincts.
Elephants have several basic needs that can never be met in captivity.
Elephants in the wild live in large family units, sometimes as many as 100 members, and have constant companionship. Their intricate social networks have been studied for decades. Studies show elephants mourn the loss of a family member for several days. Elephants have been reported to “cry” upon the death of a family member or friend.
Forced to live in artificial social units of two to three -- or in some cases kept alone -- elephants in captivity are deprived of the basic necessity of family and socialization. Any type of bond the animals might create is often broken, as zoos and circuses routinely shuffle elephants between facilities.
Wild elephants typically walk up to 40 miles a day. Constant exercise is crucial to the health of these animals, as their massive body weight puts enormous pressure on their joints and bones.
The effects of inadequate exercise on elephants are often deadly. Elephants are frequently chained and forced to live on hard surfaces such as concrete. The small sizes of their enclosures and living out of train cars exacerbate this problem even further, causing arthritis, foot abscesses, and other chronic foot and joint problems.
Wild elephants have long life spans and typically live to 60-70 years of age.
Captive elephants have significantly lower life spans than their wild counterparts and are usually dead before the age of 40. The oldest elephant in captivity in the U.S. -- Peaches -- died in January 2005 at the young age of 55 at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. Captive elephants suffer from chronic health problems such as tuberculosis, arthritis, and foot abscesses, which nearly always lead to premature death. Furthermore, attempts to breed in captivity have been largely unsuccessful. Only three of 11 African elephant calves born in zoos since 1998 were still alive as of June 2003. Of five Asian elephants born in the 12 months preceding June 2003, three are already dead.
Freedom from Abuse
Aside from humans, elephants have no natural enemies. When left alone, elephants are very peaceful creatures.
Elephants in captivity are routinely beaten, shocked, abused, and chained for long periods of time. Despite claims by circuses and zoos that “tricks” performed by elephants are based on natural behavior, elephants in the wild do not stand on their heads, balance or sit on stools or other items, or walk only on their hind legs. These behaviors are demeaning, unnatural, painful and cause fear in elephants. In order to make such an enormous animal behave in such an abnormal manner they do not understand, they must literally be beaten into submission.
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