Ely the elephant

20 January 2023


Born Free is supporting the campaign to help Ely the lonely captive elephant in Mexico.

Ely is a 42-year-old African elephant kept at Zoológico de San Juan de Aragón in Mexico. She arrived at the zoo in 2012 after reportedly being bought from a circus. Since the zoo’s other elephant Maggie was euthanised in 2016, Ely has been kept alone.

Local people and welfare groups, along with elephant experts have expressed concern for Ely’s physical and psychological health and welfare. Video footage appears to show Ely displaying some concerning stereotypic behaviours including swaying and head-bobbing. Such stereotypic behaviours are believed to be a consequence of long-term psychological damage resulting from confinement in impoverished, stressful environments. Ely is believed to also be suffering from a degenerative, chronic bone condition that particularly affects her right foreleg.

For many years Born Free has highlighted concerns about the welfare of elephants in captivity. There is considerable evidence that the keeping of elephants in captivity is damaging for their health and well-being. It is also widely acknowledged that keeping such a social species alone, denying their basic need for companionship, invariably risks compromising their welfare. Born Free’s recent report ‘Elephants in Zoos: A Legacy of Shame’ revealed the plight and suffering of elephants in zoos across Europe and North America, and laid bare the impact of captivity on the health and welfare of the animals involved.

Born Free has issued a statement and contacted the Mexican authorities, supporting the call for an urgent independent assessment of Ely by internationally recognised experts in elephant health and welfare. The Pro Elephant Network (PREN), of which Born Free is a member, has previously offered the expertise of their members and is willing to assist by discussing alternatives and practical solutions to improve Ely’s quality of life. The option of transferring Ely to a suitable elephant sanctuary where she can receive dedicated lifetime care should be given serious consideration.

Born Free’s Head of Policy Dr Mark Jones said “Recognising that they cannot provide adequate conditions to meet their physical and psychological needs, an increasing number of zoos across the world have closed their elephant exhibits over recent years, and we would urge the management of Zoológico de San Juan de Aragón and the relevant authorities in Mexico to engage with independent elephant specialists, in order to find the best solution for Ely and to commit to ending the keeping of elephants at the facility.”

If you see any captive wild animal suffering, anywhere in the world, please report it via Born Free’s Raise the Red Flag online platform:

RAISE THE RED FLAG    Read the full statement