Breeding, beatings and conservation white elephants

On 11th March, Twycross Zoo announced the birth of a female Asian elephant to 18 year-old female Noorjahan, as a result of artificial insemination. The Zoo has been quick to celebrate and publicise the news of the new arrival, but let’s recap on their recent chequered history with elephants.

Young elephants in zoos are at serious risk of contracting Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV), for which there is currently no vaccine nor reliable cure. Since 2000, EEHV has been implicated in the deaths of at least 16 elephants in zoos and circuses in Europe, including 10 in zoos in the UK. Twycross Zoo has previously reported at least 2 possible cases of elephant calves dying from the disease.  Noorjahan’s last pregnancy, also the result of artificial insemination, ended in tragedy when the baby died of suspected EEHV at 20 months.

Elephant management practices at the park have also recently been called into question. In 2012, the Zoo sacked three elephant keepers for allegedly beating the elephants, with some reports indicating that Noorjahan was one of the elephants involved. The incident was reported to the police who arrested the former keepers on suspicion of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal, although last year the Crown Prosecution Service ruled that there was ‘insufficient evidence’ to charge two of the keepers under the Animal Welfare Act.

Disease, premature deaths, beatings: it paints a sorry picture of life at Twycross. Fingers crossed for the new arrival.

Many zoos claim that captive-breeding of Asian elephants contributes to the conservation of the species but evidence suggests that more elephants die in captivity than are born so there is little prospect of the captive population ever actually contributing elephants to the wild. In truth the Asian elephant will only survive if measures are taken to fully protect and conserve the species in its natural habitat. Clearly were a fraction of the massive amounts of money spent on keeping elephants in zoos (the Los Angeles Zoo recently spent over $42 million on its new 2.1 acre enclosure) then a long term future for wild Asian elephants might be assured.

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5 Responses to “Breeding, beatings and conservation white elephants”

  1. Gill Gilbey Says:

    Dear Will,I agree with you wholeheartedly that elephants should only be in the wild.I am shocked to find that so many have died from the EEHV virus whilst in captivity.It really angers me that humans are allowed to interfere in this way with wild animals.Surely so many elephants dying in one place constitutes a crisis and it should be shut down FOR GOOD! What do the vets involved or RSPCA have to say?It seems to me that these places are laws unto themselves.I think more of this should get to the general public who visit zoos “blinkered”.

  2. Bethany Dale Says:

    People do not realize what they are letting themselves in for when they visit zoos. They bring their children and newborn babies along but really it is like taking a child to see a bloody execution during the middle ages. They aren’t the fun family outing that everybody seems to think they are.

  3. Hannah Meyers Says:

    EEHV is a disease that kills wild elephants, too. It`s not a problem caused by captivity – if anything, captive born elephants have better chances to survive an acute EEHV infection because they will recieve medical care. EEHV is not a reason against breeding in zoos.
    And if you mention the horrendous incident where elephant keepers at Twycross zoo have been caught on camera beating elephants, you should mention that these keepers were sacked and that the management system was changed to protected contact – which rules out the use of bullhooks and violence. Twycross actually did what was right and as a result, their elephants now have a much better life!!
    Instead of attacking Twycross for things that have since been solved, you should rather do an investigation into the elephant management at Whipsnade Zoo and Woburn Safari Park. The elephant keepers at Whipsnade and Woburn are both well-known within the “zoo industry” for their violence-based, circus-style training using bullhoooks. Whipsnade starts training (or better, mistreating) the elephant calves born there when they are just a few weeks old. PLEASE, LOOK INTO THIS!!!

  4. Catherine Clarke Says:

    I had the misfortune to visit Twycross Zoo some years ago and was disgusted by what I saw -in particular the orang outan enclosure where I saw a lonely, forlorn orang outan perched on top of leafless tree looking totally bored. After this trip I promised myself that I would never go to a zoo/safari park.
    Elephants, as we know, are sociable, intelligent animals who roam the land. They should NEVER be incarcerated and live a life of misery.

  5. Elaine Parkin Says:

    At Woburn Safari park the elephants are taken into a large grassed area and made to raise their front legs in ‘greeting’. What a shame if this is the norm – it’s nothing to do with conservation or education but merely a circus trick and totally unnecessary.