Concern as number of elephants in UK zoos set to increase

UK’s population of elephants cruelly kept captive in zoos is set to expand, with the import of a bull elephant from Germany, and two elephants pregnant at Blackpool Zoo. Born Free calls for policy makers to legislate for an Elephant-Free UK. 

Close up of the face of an African bull elephant

Uli the Elephant (c) Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm

Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm have announced the arrival of Uli (13) from Magdeburg Zoo, Germany. In his short life so far, he has already lived in three zoos across two countries. In addition, Blackpool Zoo have announced that elephants Noorjahan (29) and her daughter Esha (10) are pregnant and due to give birth in late 2024. Noorjahan was exported from her native India in 1998 to Twycross Zoo, where Esha was born, before the pair were transferred to Blackpool Zoo in 2018.  

Emmett (33), Blackpool zoo’s male elephant and sire to both pregnancies, was born at Syracuse Zoo, USA, before being shipped across the Atlantic Ocean in 1997 to Whipsnade Zoo prior to being transferred to Blackpool in 2019. Of the 15 elephants Emmett has sired, just six are still alive today. 

As highlighted in Born Free’s award winning film ‘Enough is Enough’ and its groundbreaking report ‘A Legacy of Shame’, zoos cannot provide elephants with the complex physiological and psychological needs that they require, nor can they replicate the complex social groupings and physical environment they have evolved to live in. 

Responding to the news, Born Free’s Captivity Research and Policy Manager, Chris Lewis said, “Despite the large and growing volume of evidence highlighting the mountain of issues captive elephants face throughout their lives, the UK zoo industry continues to persist with the import and breeding of these highly complex and intelligent animals, all too often with disastrous consequences. What kind of existence will these newborns have? They will be born into an unnatural environment and climate, and if they survive, are likely to be transferred from zoo to zoo in an attempt to maintain a failed and unnecessary breeding programme.  

“We call on the UK Government to publish the findings of the Elephant Working Group report without delay and urgently work towards ending the keeping of elephants in UK zoos.”  


Asian elephants at Blackpool Zoo (c) ianpreston, Flickr creative commons

Despite Blackpool’s elephant enclosure costing a reported £5 million, the outdoor area is only 0.8ha (8,000m²) – just over the size of a football pitch – and many times smaller than the 100ha (1,000,000m²) considered by elephant experts to be the minimum space necessary for elephants to live fulfilling lives. The space at Blackpool is also smaller than the proposed 2ha minimum enclosure size in the draft revised modern zoo standards, which zoos would have to meet by 2030. Additionally, Blackpool Zoo’s latest inspection report reveals that even this space is not available to the elephants all year round. With a further two elephants on the way, the tiny space available for each elephant will be further reduced. 

The UK Government is yet to publicly reveal the findings of its 10-year Elephant Working Group report which was finalised in 2021. In 2011, Lord Henley stated that a phasing-out of elephants in UK zoos may be necessary if “there is little or no evidence of improved [elephant] welfare,” and further emphasising this statement, in 2017, Lord Gardiner of Kimble stated that the “phasing out of elephants from UK zoos was a possibility if improvements were not evident after the 10-year period, in January 2021.” 

The keeping of Asian elephants in European zoos is demonstrably unsustainable due to a number of issues the animals face in captivity, including reduced lifespan and high infant mortality. In 2023, the number of deaths has outnumbered births in European zoos by 14 to eight. Additionally, two elephants died shortly before and after birth. Furthermore, the breeding of elephants in captivity has no meaningful conservation benefit to elephants in the wild. 

Born Free is reiterating its call for an Elephant-Free UK and for the keeping of elephants in UK zoos to be phased out over time. To make this a reality, we are calling on the government to ban further breeding and import of elephants, while ensuring the remaining captive elephants enjoy the best possible conditions for the rest of their lives. 

Sign our petition today, to end the keeping of elephants in zoos in the UK.

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