The Born Free Foundation, originally known as Zoo Check, was founded in response to the destruction of a teenage African elephant named Pole Pole in the Elephant House at London Zoo on 17th October 1983. The 17th October 2013, marked the anniversary of her tragic death 30 years ago and coincided with the publication of a damning report, Innocent Prisoner, that exposes the lives endured by some of the 40 or more elephants living in solitary confinement throughout Europe.
To coincide with the anniversary of Pole Pole’s tragic death, the Born Free Foundation released Innocent Prisoner, a new report highlighting the on-going plight of solitary elephants in Europe. Born Free discovered the shocking truth that there were over 40 elephants currently housed alone in zoos, circuses and private facilities across Europe.
Virginia McKenna OBE, still actively involved in the work of the Foundation, visited one such elephant, Twiggy, at Belgrade Zoo in Serbia in September 2013. Twiggy had been moved between five different zoos in Britain throughout the 1980s, before eventually ending up in Serbia in 1990. She has been alone since 1997.
Ms McKenna was deeply distressed by what she found when she saw Twiggy for the first time,
"I honestly thought that the days of keeping intelligent, social, family-oriented species like elephants in solitary confinement were long gone. That no more elephants would suffer what Pole Pole had to endure. How wrong I was. It was heart-breaking, reaching out to Twiggy as I had done to Pole Pole all those years ago and realising that for her, the nightmare was still a reality.”
Will Travers OBE, CEO of the Born Free Foundation said,
"Thirty years ago Pole Pole’s death sent shockwaves around the captive industry. We thought the keeping of elephants in solitary would soon become a distant memory. It seems many zoos and circuses have learned nothing and are willing to live in the past. Our mission is simple: Over the next 30 years we want to see the compassionate phasing-out of elephants in captivity in Europe and, specifically, ensure that the keeping of elephants alone can never happen again."
Chris Draper, Born Free's Senior Programmes Manager for Captive Wild Animals/Science, added:
"With the best will in the world, zoos and circuses cannot replicate the social and physical environment that elephants have evolved to live in. This means that what elephants want and need, compared to what they can be provided with in captivity, are very different. One of their key requirements is social interaction with members of their own species. Denying this risks severely compromising elephant welfare."
Born Free is calling for the establishment of the first genuine elephant sanctuary in Europe and for the elephants currently housed alone to be relocated there. Key criteria for such a sanctuary include: opportunities for social contact with other elephants; ensuring that female elephants remain with their friends, family and companions unless lives are at risk; enforcing a no breeding policy to make sure that sanctuary space goes to the most needy; campaigning for an end to imports of elephants from the wild; and supporting all appropriate measures to conserve and protect elephants in their natural habitat.