Britain will ban keeping elephants in zoos

    30 Jun 2021

    The British government plans to ban the keeping of elephants in zoos and safari parks in accordance with the expansion of the law on keeping animals, which MPs are to pass this year, The Daily Mail reports.

    The ban, initiated by Environment Minister Zach Goldsmith, is reflected in a report on the welfare of elephants in captivity and the inability to meet their natural needs in a zoo.

    This legislation is part of a broader reform of zoos, which is expected to be included in the bill on animal husbandry.

    Goldsmith is sponsoring the bill in question, known as the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill, which is expected to pass “later this year,” as reported by VegNews.

    The Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will bolster animal welfare in five key categories, as per the government website:

    · Puppy smuggling, which will be banned

    · Live animal exporting, which is typically done before fattening animals up for slaughter, which will be banned

    · Keeping primates as pets, which will be prohibited (though they can still be kept in zoos)

    · Livestock worrying, which essentially allows police to protect animals being kept as livestock from “dangerous” dogs

    Zoos — the Zoo Licensing Act will be updated to improve regulations and conservation efforts at zoos.

    And also as part of the zoo section of the bill, the U.K. will ban keeping elephants at zoos and safaris. It’s unclear at this time if the bill will also apply to other common captive situations for elephants, such as circuses; it is also unclear what will happen to elephants currently being held at zoos and safaris.

    “Elephants living in captivity uffer from many diseases, including mental degradation, arthritis and hernias. Wild elephants are complex social creatures that live in families and travel up to 30 miles a day to get food. In the wild, elephants live up to 50 years, and in captivity, their life expectancy is reduced to 17 years, “the report said.

    Audrey Delsink, a biologist, doctor of philosophy and director of wildlife at the International Society for the Protection of Animals (HSI) in Africa, is studying elephant populations in South Africa and welcomes new legislation that will prevent future generations of elephants from suffering in captivity.

    Delsink said: “Elephants are very intelligent, extremely social creatures with a complex family structure and connections that they maintain throughout life. They need space to move freely with other elephants, behave naturally and be healthy both emotionally and physically.

    Legislation will prohibit the importation of any new animals and the existing population will be allowed to die out naturally.

    The move by environment minister Zac Goldsmith is likely to delight Boris Johnson’s wife Carrie, who is a champion of elephant welfare.

    Campaigners have long warned that highly intelligent animals suffer from mental illness in zoos.

    They are also plagued in captivity by illnesses, including crippling arthritis, and live on average for just 17 years according to the RSPCA. This compares with more than 50 years in the wild. The legislation will bring to an end more than seven centuries of elephants being kept in captivity in Britain.

    The first arrived in 1255, a present to Henry III from Louis IX of France. It was described as ‘a beast most strange and wonderful to the English people, sith most seldom or never any of that kind had been seene in England before that time’.

    The Government is due to receive the results of a report on the welfare of elephants in captivity soon. It is understood that it argues against keeping them in zoos. A senior source said: ‘Once the current load of elephants dies out we will say you can’t replace them.

    ‘It’s impossible to keep them in conditions where they are happy, the space is too small.

    ‘In the UK the biggest elephant enclosures are so minute. They grub up the environment so quickly too – they have an incredibly important role in that but if they are in such a small area they destroy everything.

    ‘It’s very likely we are going to say you can’t make elephants happy in zoos, we should instead be focusing on elephant conservation in areas that have elephants.’

    This policy is part of wider zoo reforms, due to be announced as part of the Kept Animals Bill later this year.

    Government officials told the Daily Mail that the use of animals solely for entertainment will be phased out.

    Mark Jones of the charity Born Free said: ‘There are many species that don’t belong in zoos, elephants are very much one of those species. It should be phased out, the needs of these very wide-roaming, very complex social animals cannot be met in a captive environment.’

    MPs have been campaigning on this issue for some time, particularly through the influential Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation.

    Lorraine Platt, chairman of CAWF, said keeping elephants in zoos was cruel, adding: ‘It isn’t appropriate to keep elephants in zoos. They need to have large spaces in which to roam and also they have close-knit family groups as well.’

    Public outrage was triggered in 2011 when welfare campaigners revealed footage of Anne, the last circus elephant in Britain, chained in a Northamptonshire barn with shackles around her legs. Daily Mail readers raised £410,000 in donations, to help pay for retirement in a state-of-the-art enclosure at Longleat, where she remains.

    There are 51 elephants in 11 zoos across the UK, including at Woburn, Whipsnade, Colchester, and Chester. It has been illegal for circuses to keep elephants since January 2020.

    Under the new legislation, animals will be able to prolong their life in their natural habitat.

    In addition, in January 2020, the UK also banned the use of wild animals in circuses, ending the exploitation of elephants and other animals for entertainment purposes.

    In the wild, they live in large herds and are migratory animals with highly complex social lives. Some travel hundreds of miles each year.

    The Prime Minister’s wife is head of communications for the Aspinall Foundation, which works in conjunction with two conservation zoos.

    What about other animals in captivity?

    Elephants are not the only animals that suffer in captivity as other wild animals—such as lions, giraffes, and whales—are kept in cramped conditions that cannot satisfy their natural behaviors. 

    “Marine mammals also suffer whilst in captivity as they too are highly social, long-lived beings and are unable to carry out their natural behaviors to their full capacity,” Delsink told VegNews. “Like elephants, marine mammals try to cope with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors known as “stereotypies” — repetitive, purposeless habits to combat stress and boredom.”  

    Delsink pointed to the work of Bob Jacobs, a Professor of Neuroscience at Colorado College, who showed that confining large mammals in zoos and aquariums leads to neurological damage and compromised brain function. 

    “Research by Professor Jacobs and many other scientists on the neurological effects of caging animals presents us with evidence that can no longer be disputed,” Delsink said. “[UK’s forthcoming elephant] legislation is testimony to this work and key to forcing us to examine how we treat animals for the sake of our entertainment and so-called education. Today’s technology offers a myriad of highly immersive educational methods to teach us everything from black holes to dinosaurs—things we will have never seen but nonetheless know about.”   

    SeaWorld’s captive marine animals

    Stateside, aquatic park SeaWorld has been exploiting marine animals for entertainment for nearly 50 years. In 2013, SeaWorld came under fire after the release of the documentary film Blackfish which centered around Tilikum, an orca captured off the coast of Iceland in 1983 who spent nearly his entire life performing at the park’s Orlando location until he died at age 35 in 2017 from a persistent bacterial lung infection. 

    After the film’s release, SeaWorld experienced steep losses in profits and attendance and ended its orca breeding program in 2015. After pressure from animal-rights groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), SeaWorld ended its Ocean One orca shows in 2017 and pledged to discontinue its shows that feature trainers riding on dolphins’ faces and backs in 2020. 

    Despite continued pressure and a recent $250,000 offer from PETA to retire marine animals to a seaside sanctuary, SeaWorld continues to keep the intelligent beings confined to small tanks where they are unable to perform their natural behaviors. 

    You may read the argumentation why humanity should get rid of keeping marine animals in captivity here and here.

    Also in France performances of wild animals in mobile circuses and cultivation of dolphins will be forbidden.

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