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Archaic Zoo Model Is Harming Elephants

Archaic Zoo Model Is Harming Elephants

Hopefully, you have now had a chance to read and share our 15th annual list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants. How is it that elephants, one of the planet’s most intelligent, social, and endangered species, came to be the victims of one of history’s greatest deceptions?

Zoos have long exploited the narrative that keeping elephants captive - and sometimes forcing them to perform degrading circus tricks - educates people about elephants and somehow helps wild populations. These claims are not only inaccurate, but they are also deeply troubling since they communicate the message that it is acceptable to dominate elephants utterly and take advantage of the love and connection people harbor for these iconic and beautiful beings.

There is absolutely no denying the existence of a toxic link between captive elephants and the so-called “conservation” promoted by the cash-focused and profit-driven zoo industry.

In direct contravention with conservation goals, certain zoos continue the cruel legacy of plundering elephant individuals from the wild where they are already rapidly disappearing. Zoos pay top dollar for elephants who have been captured from the wild, importing these traumatized individuals into North America in order to confine them in tiny exhibits.

Making matters worse for captives, many zoos insist on continuing to use cruel bullhooks to control elephants through fear and pain, and they sever important social bonds when they swap elephants between zoos like trading cards. Even as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus stopped its infamous performances before it permanently closed, many so-called “modern” zoos still force elephants to perform demeaning circus-style tricks for paying customers.

Imagine a peaceful elephant family roaming free over the endless savannahs or tropical jungles together in large, bonded, matriarchal family groups. Now imagine that same family is torn apart, with some members shipped to entirely different continents, and others perishing from the stress of it all. Imagine these broken family members forced into crushing solitary confinement in tiny enclosures, beaten into submission as they perform circus-style tricks for the amusement of paying crowds.

In Defense of Animals’ 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants list draws attention to the serious shortcomings of zoos when it comes to elephants. Clearly, elephants are not thriving in constricted zoo exhibits, no matter how fresh the paint or with the addition of an acre or two. Elephant deaths continue to outpace births due to captivity-caused conditions like obesity, arthritis and foot disease. Still, zoos spend millions of dollars on renovating or building new exhibits, even though there aren’t enough elephants to fill them.

Support today for our elephant advocacy campaign will provide the vital resources we need to push our elephant campaign forward into the new year and beyond. Here are some of our bold plans for elephants:

Provide greater assistance for local and grassroots elephant activism.

Pressure local and state lawmakers to pursue science-based changes to captive elephant policies.

Reduce demand for elephant captivity by educating the public about the suffering elephants endure.

And of course, fight for the release of ALL captive elephants to accredited sanctuaries.

In Defense of Animals has said it before and we’ll say it again: Captivity is not conservation, and never will be. It's time for zoos to move away from keeping elephants captive and to instead focus on true conservation: ensuring elephants continue to thrive in their wild and free natural habitats.

If we do not do something soon, elephants could become extinct in our lifetime. It’s time to end the deception that zoos perpetuate, to stop elephants being kidnapped from the wild, to end the captivity of elephants for the sake of ticket sales and profits; and demand real conservation measures be taken. Demand real education. Demand real change.

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