The death of a baby elephant at Copenhagen Zoo

Can it be that only a few weeks ago I shivered in the cold and watched the Asian elephants at Copenhagen Zoo wandering rather aimlessly around their grassless enclosure? I could not have imagined then that the two-year old calf that trotted between two of the swaying adults (signs of stereotypic behaviour?) would soon be dead.

Just a few days ago, the Zoo (the same one that killed Marius the young giraffe) decided to euthanize the calf as it had developed acute symptoms of Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV), a disease that strikes in captivity with frightening regularity.

It is highly debatable as to whether EEHV has any kind of significant impact on elephants in the wild and certainly evidence suggests that it does not kill a high proportion of young elephants, as has been the case with captive Asian elephants in North America where, since 1978, 25% of those born in zoos have died of EEHV.

But importantly this raises, once again, the over-riding question as to whether elephants should be in zoos at all.

In my view, the answer is a resounding no. Behavioural problems that I have witnessed time and time again, the dismal birth rate, the reduced longevity and, frankly, the miserable and depressing environments that so many of these animals are forced to endure surely must tell us that this is not part of the solution to the conservation of the species. Yes, there are massive challenges in the wild – habitat fragmentation, persecution, conflict and, of course, poaching, particularly of African elephants for their ivory. But unless we can conserve elephants, living wild and free as nature intended, and meet and overcome these challenges, then the individuals in zoos, the last, lingering representatives of their kind, will be a sorry indictment of our failure to meet our obligation to guarantee a real future for these extraordinary creatures.

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One Response to “The death of a baby elephant at Copenhagen Zoo”

  1. Donna Mackenzie Says:

    Totally agree Will. Given the size of natural habitat an elephant would utilise in the wild it is simply not possible to provide even a small fraction of this in captivity. No matter how well intentioned some captive facilities are they simply cannot reproduce natural conditions.

    What is the point of breeding elephants in these tiny, inappropriate enclosures? While seeing a live elephant is an amazing experience it is better to not see one than see an unhappy one, living in cramped and unsuitable conditions.

    The only elephants that should be in zoos are those rescued from even worse conditions eg circuses and slum zoos. We need more conservation in the wild rather than these living museums.