Myths vs Facts
Captivity is better because elephants are vulnerable to poachers in the wild and will live longer in captivity.
Elephants in captivity are usually dead by age 40 while wild elephants can live over 70 years. Because the death rate far exceeds the birth rate of captive elephants, American Zoo Association (AZA) experts predict only five Asian zoo elephants will be alive in 2049. Other projections predict North America’s captive population of elephants will drop to almost zero in the next 15 to 25 years. Consequently, the only way zoos can continue having elephants on display is to capture more of them from the wild.
Ringling Bros. circus makes numerous claims of conservation efforts and proudly boasts of elephants giving birth in their custody. However, with at least 27 deaths (including four babies) and only 23 births since 1992, the Ringling elephants are actually dying at a faster rate than they are being born. The elephants born at the Ringling Bros. facility will never be released into the wild, they are being breed to become performers. Additionally, of Ringling’s approximately 60 elephants, more than 40 were captured in the wild. The circus has not successfully bred more elephants than it has removed from wild populations.
Instead of spending huge amounts of money to capture and confine elephants, funds should be directed toward conserving their native lands and eliminating poaching.
Zoos and circuses provide excellent educational opportunities for children. If elephants weren’t on display, we would never learn about their behavior.
Zoos and circuses operate under the guise of education and conservation. In reality, research shows most visitors spend anywhere from eight seconds to three minutes at an individual exhibit, and less than 10% ever read placards or other information on display.
Most people who visit zoos and circuses expect to see animals behave as they would in the wild. However, captive elephants routinely exhibit abnormal behavior that includes incessant swaying and head bobbing -- both signs of severe stress.
In circuses, despite claims that routines are based on natural behavior, elephants do not stand on their heads, balance or sit on stools or other items, or walk on their hind legs. These behaviors are demeaning, unnatural, painful, and cause fear in an elephant.
A great deal more can be learned about elephants through humane alternatives. For example, in place of a captive elephant exhibit, LCA recommends for zoos to present an IMAX-type theater showcasing documentary style footage of elephants in the wild. Children and adults can watch actual behavior of these fascinating animals foraging, socializing, bathing and caring for their young in their natural habitat. In addition, a narrator can describe why and how specific behaviors are exhibited and provide additional facts and commentary.
The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee (www.elephants.com) offers two unique educational opportunities. Using the power of the Internet, students in the classroom can take a virtual "field trip" to the sanctuary. Images and sound are transported live, allowing students to view an elephant's daily life without intrusion. The Elephant Sanctuary also features a live webcam at www.elephants.com/elecam.
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