Born free and now living alone – life for an elephant in a UK zoo


The UK now has three zoos which are home to solitary elephants – despite being highly social animals, Anne, Mondula and Five are suffering in solitude. We need to phase out the keeping of elephants in UK zoos, now.

Five the elephant, stood alone at West Midlands Safari Park

Elephants are extremely complex, social animals, whose natural biology and behaviour is based on living within and as part of closely-bonded matriarchal herds. Elephants in the wild, particularly females, do not live alone and every solitary elephant is a victim of the zoo industry. However, the UK is now home to three zoos with solitary elephants. 

Headshot of Frankie Osuch

Frankie Osuch, Policy Support Officer

Our 2022 report, ‘Elephants in Zoos: A Legacy of Shame’, revealed the extent of the pain and suffering being caused by the keeping of elephants in zoos across Europe, including the UK. Whether part of a herd or alone, captivity cannot possibly provide for the social and environmental needs of elephants, with elephants often suffering from physical and behavioural issues as a result.

Former circus elephant Anne, who is currently housed alone at Longleat, is considered to be the oldest elephant in Europe at 69 years old. She has not seen another member of her species for over 20 years. The decision was made by Longleat to not relocate Anne to a sanctuary due to concerns around her age, physical health and lack of socialising. Elephants need to be phased out of zoos before another tragic story like Anne’s can happen.

Mondula was taken from the wild as a baby to be sold into the zoo industry. Now 52, she is living alone at Blair Drummond Safari Park in an enclosure that doesn’t even have a pool, despite current zoo standards stipulating its necessity. The zoo claims that “there is no indication that she is lonely” and she “has formed a close attachment with the team of Keepers who work with her”, but the zoo is failing to provide her with the social and environmental aspects she was born and is evolved to live in.

Five was born in the wild before being brought to West Midland Safari Park over 25 years ago. With Five’s son having recently been moved to Noah’s Ark Zoo, she is now living alone. West Midland Safari Park have expressed their intentions to introduce another bull elephant to Five in the “very near future”, in attempt to create more elephants destined to a life in captivity.

Instead, we are calling on West Midland Safari Park to immediately end their elephant breeding programme and rehome Five to a sanctuary or another facility where she has the chance of experiencing the company of other female elephants, while ensuring that she receives dedicated care and the best possible living conditions.

Under the proposed amendments to zoo standards within Great Britain, none of these three facilities would meet the newly proposed minimum enclosure dimensions of 2 hectares (20,000sqm). Along with West Midland Safari Park, we would encourage Longleat and Blair Drummond Safari Park to announce their intention to end their keeping of elephants which includes a process which focuses on providing the best possible lifetime care for Anne and Mondula.

Public perceptions of zoos are changing. Last year, a survey commissioned by Born Free found that over three quarters (76%) of UK residents believe that the next UK government should end the keeping of large animals in zoos. It is now time for zoos, zoo associations and the government to end the keeping of elephants in zoos.