Twiggy the elephant: we will never forget

Born Free is sad to report that Twiggy, who lived alone at Belgrade Zoo for 26 years, has died.

An elephant reaches out its trunk over the side of its enclosure, where people are standing

Twiggy with Virginia McKenna at Belgrade Zoo © BFF

Belgrade Zoo, Serbia, has announced on their Facebook page that Twiggy the 57-year-old Asian elephant died on 4th September after a short illness.

Born in the wild in India, Twiggy was captured as an infant then taken to the UK. After more than 20 years of being transferred between several British zoos and one in the Netherlands, she arrived in Belgrade, Serbia in 1990. Here, she lived in a small enclosure with another Asian elephant named Boy, until he sadly died in 1997. Since then, Twiggy lived alone.

Elephants are extremely complex, social animals, evolved to live in closely-bonded matriarchal herds. Captivity cannot possibly provide for the social and environmental needs of elephants, especially when they’re kept alone. Our 2022 report, Elephants in Zoos: A Legacy of Shame, details the extent of the pain and suffering being caused by the keeping of elephants in zoos across Europe.

Twiggy’s story featured in our 2013 report, ‘Innocent Prisoner’. Having met Twiggy on 5th September 2013, Born Free’s Co-Founder Dame Virginia McKenna wrote in the report, “Twiggy, in Belgrade Zoo, is a symbol of all we are fighting to change.” This remains true today. Twiggy’s story serves as a stark reminder of how elephants are continually victims of the captivity industry. There are still over 20 solitary elephants held in zoos and circuses in Europe and elephants are still being captured from the wild to be kept in captivity.

Rest in peace, Twiggy. In her memory and with your help, Born Free is determined to keep fighting for change. We will continue to call on zoos, zoo associations and governments to phase out the inhumane keeping of elephants in zoos.

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