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David Hancocks on Elephants......

Discussion in 'General Zoo Discussion' started by patrick, 19 Jun 2006.

  1. patrick

    patrick Well-Known Member

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    The Age, June 19, 2006

    Save elephants from zoos

    These big animals need to range over large areas and interact with other elephants, writes David Hancocks.

    Thirty years ago, at my desk one dreary morning, I listened to abuse from a mother demanding to know why I would deny her children the right to see an elephant. As the new director of the zoo in Seattle, Washington, one of my first recommendations had been to send our two elephants to a place with a warmer climate and more space.

    In addition to calls from irate mothers, my proposal generated hate mail from schools. Journalists asked how we could be a zoo if we didn't have an elephant. A politician suggested that if I raised the topic again I would be the one leaving town, not the elephants.

    The response today might be different. In recent years, zoos in Detroit, New York, Phoenix, San Francisco, Chicago, London and Bristol, recognising they cannot meet the complex social, behavioural, psychological and spatial needs of elephants, have closed their exhibits or are phasing them out. Other zoos, in Tucson, Anchorage, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and, sadly, Seattle, are being dragged kicking and screaming into a rapidly growing public debate across America about zoos and elephants.

    The concerns are fuelled by information emerging from years of field studies. One researcher, Cynthia Moss, aptly describes elephants as "intelligent, complicated, intense, tender, powerful, and funny". We now know from Moss and others that elephants in the wild live in very stable, multi-generational families, never separated from each other except by death.

    Their social communication is astonishing: an elephant can distinguish the vocalisations of more than 100 elephants from at least 14 families. They are active for more than 16 hours a day, foraging over 10 kilometres while exercising their joints and ligaments, maintaining muscle tone, burning fat, ensuring good blood flow, and enjoying mental stimulation from covering such large areas.

    This bears little resemblance to the life that characterises captive conditions in even the best zoos. Typically, zoo elephants lead stoic lives marked by depression, foot rot, bone disease, obesity, and boredom. Zoo elephants die younger than their wild brethren, and most of them suffer ailments from a combination of inactivity, inappropriate diets, loneliness, inadequate housing, lack of space, and stress. A study by the RSPCA in England four years ago revealed so many concerns they recommended importation and breeding of zoo elephants should stop.

    Space is a critical issue, although that's denied by zoos. But determining the minimum space for zoo elephants is an inexact science. They love to explore, to exercise, to wander. The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, home to many abused zoo elephants, provides more than 1000 rolling hectares. My view is that eight hectares could be an acceptable minimum, if properly designed. Should that seem barely tolerable, consider that the new $15 million exhibit at Taronga provides just one fifth of a hectare. Melbourne Zoo's new exhibit, of similar cost, provides less than half a hectare.

    In addition to their construction costs, Melbourne and Taronga have also invested considerable funds to acquire elephants for their new exhibits. Last year they received government permits to import eight elephants from Thailand. They assert it will help save the species from extinction.

    This claim echoes a chorus sung by many zoos. They say baby zoo elephants are essential, because wild elephants are disappearing. But no zoo elephant babies will ever be reintroduced to the wild. Nor will they ever enjoy a life remotely like the quality and complexity they could enjoy in the wild.

    No credible authority on elephant conservation supports the idea that zoo breeding is necessary. Only zoos seem to think this is a good and useful action. Is it possible that their eagerness for baby elephants might be because an elephant birth guarantees huge increases in zoo attendance?

    The track record for successful breeding, however, is not good. No Australian zoo has ever bred an elephant. The approximately 130 Asian elephants in American zoos have produced 12 offspring since 2000. Seven of those were born dead or died within days of birth.

    I was involved with planning the Melbourne Zoo elephant exhibit. My first approach had been to persuade the zoo not to have elephants. I lost that argument, but there was agreement that the litany of health problems afflicting Melbourne's two elephants should not be repeated.

    I remember board member and veterinarian Andrew Vizard stating that the zoo should accept responsibility to make the remaining years of the resident two elephants as comfortable as possible, but that there should be no attempts to breed elephants at Melbourne Zoo; the problems of captivity should not be perpetuated.

    Concerned Thai nationals have temporarily prevented the shipment of the elephants destined for Australia. There is now a question whether the shipment will take place at all. It will be a wonderfully courageous and noble decision if the zoos decide not to pursue the importation. In any case, it is a question that deserves careful community deliberation.

    Guy Cooper, CEO of Taronga Zoo, claims that his new exhibit is "a Four Seasons Hotel for elephants". Do we really have the right to take animals as sociable, intelligent, vigorous, perceptive, communicative, and complex as elephants, and give them the equivalent of spending the rest of their lives with four other people in a hotel room? Couldn't the debate be taken to higher level than this simplistic spin?

    David Hancocks is a former director of Werribee Open Range Zoo and director of strategic planning for Zoos Victoria, and a former director of Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle.
     
  2. Zooish

    Zooish Well-Known Member

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    Is there a misquote or is the Taronga habitat really 1/5 of a hectare (which is about 2,000 square metres)? That seems a little cramped for 5 eles. It does look larger than that from the pictures.

    Would the eles be walked around the zoo? If so that would make up for the small exhibit space.

    Fact of the matter is, it's not just about amount of space, more importantly, it's the quality of the space. You can build a 1,000 hectare paddock, but if it is virtually featureless, then it really isn't of much use either.
     
  3. Zoo_Boy

    Zoo_Boy Well-Known Member

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    yes tarongas exhibit os tht size

    yes they will be walked around

    and there is to be a second ele exhibit, on the site of the old 1, which will be done up , a new house, and the old 1 converted into either a bug/repltile house of sea, or an ele museum. this new exhibit will be for Gung, the male when he matures, and there will be walks up to him. this will also be a breeding exhibit.
     
  4. Coquinguy

    Coquinguy Well-Known Member

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    taronga's elephant enclosure

    taronga's elephant enclosure is 1.5 hectares, not one fifth of a hectare. this does not include the second enclosure along the boulevard of equal size that has been reserved for the male when he matures. the zoo has stated that every day the elephants will be walked for several kilometres through the zoo and even publically anounced it would swim the elphants in the harbour back in 2001 when the state budget funding agreement was announced.
    we have talked over and over about this on this forum. i dont think the breeding program is intended to raise baby elephants for reintroduction-rather to...
    1-educate the public
    2-use the captive elephants as a vehicle for raising funds to protect wild elephants
    3-develop assisted reproductive technologies in the zoos for use on wild populations
    4-establish a viable program which will see elephants bred in captivity so future generations of austrlians can see them.
    this import has fuelled so much debate and in some cases ive sat on the fence but to see the animal liberationists in thailand banging on the travelling crates and scaring the animals to me underscored my beleif that they take an extreme, unbalanced and idealistic view on a issue which in a perfect world would not be occurring.
    i think the zoos will maintain the animals as per best practice and having actually seen the finished enclosure at taronga am satisfied that the program will eventually be succesful in all the above respects.
     
  5. MARK

    MARK Well-Known Member

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    Well said Glyn, you have hit the nail on the head here, I agree with you 100%.
    If we ever do get a breeding program off the ground then i like to see them move out to the open range zoos at Dubbo and Werribee.
     
  6. Zoo_Boy

    Zoo_Boy Well-Known Member

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    sorry gyln, the actuall ele enclousure is not tht big, i may have been false about the 1 fith ha, but the 1,5 hectres is the whole exhinbit, including the trail, edu building and all the smaller exhibits

    on the ocean swimming, i thought tht was ruled out (dnt quote me) for disese risk to the animals etc,

    everything else ya right ye they will be walked around and it will be great
     
  7. patrick

    patrick Well-Known Member

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    a common argument by advocates of this plan is that space is not as important as enrichment. to quote zooish "it's not just about amount of space, more importantly, it's the quality of the space. You can build a 1,000 hectare paddock, but if it is virtually featureless, then it really isn't of much use either."
     
  8. patrick

    patrick Well-Known Member

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    why do you want elephants?

    a commonly used argument by the zoos and other advaocates of this plan is that it is not so much of an issue of space, but rather quality of that space. to quote zooish "it's not just about amount of space, more importantly, it's the quality of the space. You can build a 1,000 hectare paddock, but if it is virtually featureless, then it really isn't of much use either."

    why on earth would a large exhibit be featureless? do you think that the ingenuity of scratching posts, sand piles and swimming pools (coz lets face it - thats all these "enriched exhibits provide") is reserved just for small city exhibits. the issue of space comes up so much with elephants because quite simply, its nice for them. sometimes its nice to just appreciate something different, to be able to go for a walk without having to turn around and walk back the way you came every 30 meters. to not be able to see the entire extent of your surroundings from one place. to be able to have grass under your feet because it doesn't get trampled all day every day. and trees growing above your head. to discover something new, to go for a swim in a river or lake not a concrete pool, to spare your ears the sound of traffic and screaming schoolchildren, to have the space to be able to get away if you are feeling grumpy. to see other animals and life around you. you don't honestly believe that these sorts of pleasures are reserved for just us humans do you?

    lets not kid ourselves here guys. i don't believe for one second that any of you don't know in your hearts that elephants enjoy and more importantly deserve, copious amounts of space. they are huge herd-living animals! in fact they are the largest terrestrial animal on earth and they are smart. yet we give our domestic sheep and cows better exhibits than we do elephants!!

    everyone's making excuses for the zoos because, in the end, though we all know deep inside that keeping them in the city was wrong, we want them here anyway.

    come on. be honest with yourself. think about it. what upsets you so much about not having elephants in australia? you want them here because you want to go to the zoo and see them. we all love elephants. we want to go to the zoo and we want to watch them walk around and we want to see their little babies and feel good about that as if one extra little elephant in sydney is really going to make any kind of difference to real elephant conservation. we want to breed them because it makes us feel better about keeping them. one of the most common questions people ask zookeepers is "do they breed?" or "have they had any babies?" or "why doesn't the zoo get him a girlfriend?". we like baby animals because they are cute, but more importantly we just like the idea that one is there. they are a family so they must be happy and that justifies us keeping them so i feel okay about it. in fact the breeding status of a group of captive animals has become a benchmark touted as divine animal contentment. the dolphins at seaworld are happy in captivity because they breed....

    we are looking for an excuse to keep them, not looking at if we should keep them.

    as glyn so beautifully put it, we want to...

    "establish a viable program which will see elephants bred in captivity so future generations of australians can see them."

    did you read those last few words? "so future generations of australians can see them."

    it has nothing to do with elephant conservation at all.

    in fact i'll make a bet with anyone here on the forum.

    how much money do you think the zoos have spent collectively on the elephants?

    30 million? that would be a pretty fair and conservative estimate (cos i think its more).

    and regardless of them breeding, the young elephants from thailand could be expected, should they be cared for properly, to live for up to another 50 years.

    so lets say that these elephants will die around 2056. and thats some old elephants for animals kept in a zoo.

    so, in order for the zoos to raise an amount for elephant conservation that is equal to what they have spent on them by the time they die (and this is excluding all food, medical and other costs associated with their upkeep), taronga and melbourne must each individually raise $300,000 anually.

    and even if they did eventually raise this much or even exceed it, 30 million in one hit is a hell of alot more valuable to conservation than $30 million dribbled out over 50 years. in fact they way things are going their wont be any wild elephants to conserve in 50 years.

    so this is my bet. i bet anyone who cares to take me up, that;

    in the first 12 months of having the new elephants on display, neither taronga zoo or melbourne zoo will raise even close to $300,000 for wild elephants.

    if i lose i'll get off the forum and never whinge about elephants ever again. if i win, i hope that some of you start to look at things a little differently. i hope you realise that the only reason you want to see elephants at taronga and melbourne zoo is not because you think they will be better off - but because you want to think they will be. because you want an excuse to see them there.

    trust me - from someone who has seen it for themselves, elephants look way better when your looking out over a massive lake surrounded by forest and grasslands. there are hundreds of elephants, different herds have come down to the reservoir to drink and socialise. there are bulls, cows, teenagers and babies. the sun is setting over the national park that you just spent two days sitting on a bag of rice at the back of a rustly old bus to get to. theres nothing between you and the elephants just a whole lot of grass and fresh air. there are so many of them, the documentaries you have seen does the real thing no justice whatsoever. you realise that this is what elephants really look like and you think to yourself "this is why i came here".

    and it was worth it.
     
    Last edited: 20 Jun 2006
  9. Kifaru Bwana

    Kifaru Bwana Well-Known Member

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    Elephants in zoos

    All that jazz is very well, but elephants are CRITICALLY ENDANGERED in the wild. Even more so in Asia than in Africa. Zoos have an obligation to maintain wild animals for public viewing and education. Conservation and scientific concerns have increasingly become more to the foreground. The reason that zoos in Australia are importing elephants from Thailand is exactly because their status in the wild is so critical. The wild populations are continuously falling and failing despite strenuous efforts to stem the tide and rerelease orphans back into safe protected areas. These PA's are few and far between. Humans outside these areas normally do not treat elephants very well and often elephants get killed. Or even better they end up in captivity with mahouts on the streets of Bangkok. That is the reality of elephant life in this day and age.

    To continue to exhibit elephants zoos need to breed their elephants and demonstrate that these intelligent wild animals are worth the trouble saving in nature. Australian zoos as part of the importation have given an obligation to contribute significantly to elephant conservation in the wild. That can only be for the benefit of the entire species. In the meantime I am sure that the best possible care will be afforded to the newcomers and provide favourable conditions for them to breed in.

    That elephants do not breed well in captivity is a myth. The European breeding programmes for Asians are very well organised and now produce 10-12 calves per year. That is a world of difference from the early 1990's when perhaps 3-5 zoos in the region sometimes bred the species. That has all been due to concerted efforts to research the best possible conditions for elephants to be exhibited in socially stable groups and to breed from them with bull holdings. Now a prerequisite for holders is the condition that they must have a separate bull holding area and a matriarch group area. If zoos in Europe cannot provide this minimum requirement they are destined to hold older non-reproductive females and will be termed a non-breeding location. Bigger and better elephant facilities are stemming up each year in Europe and for the Asians a target in 2010 of 15-20 elephants calves per year seems possible. That is so much different from early 1990's when the expectation was that elephants in Europe would go extinct in 30-40 years without significant recruitment.

    I rest my case: elephants have a place in zoos, allthough be that different from that of yesterdays!
     
  10. Zoo_Boy

    Zoo_Boy Well-Known Member

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    Right pat, for once in my life i whole hertedly agree with you, but i beleive they should be here aswell, for the education purposes, and to show my kids. i dnt want to at a zoo and never see an elephant. I want my kids to learn what they are and now with taronga and melb, even get close and touch them, it ould be amazing.

    aswell, i belive within the next few years they well may move out to dubbo, heres hoping.


    The vision of Taronga and Western Plains Zoos is to inspire Australians and our visitors to discover, explore, delight in and protect our natural world.


    In the words of the renowned African Ecologist, Baba Dioum: In the end, we will conserve only what we love, We will love only what we understand, And we will understand only what we are taught.
     
  11. Zooish

    Zooish Well-Known Member

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    In a perfect world, everyone should be able to experience what you just described. But we don't live in a perfect world.

    Zoos are designed for the masses. National Parks are not. I personally believe that a zoo's most important mission is to serve as a constant, even if at times cruel, reminder that we share the earth with so many other species. Out of sight, out of mind.
     
  12. MARK

    MARK Well-Known Member

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    Good point Zooish. Any sign of that elephant calf at Singarpore zoo yet?.
     
  13. Kifaru Bwana

    Kifaru Bwana Well-Known Member

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    Breeding purpose of elephant keeping

    I sincerely hope that the importation of the young elephants from Thailand will initiate a serious attempt at maintaining the species in socially adept surroundings with ample behavioral cues and diversions for these highly intelligent wild animals. And that over time breeding will commence in earnest and for once term the need to import to yester years. And that zoos in Melb and Taronga will seriously contribute to conservation in the wild.
     
  14. Nigel

    Nigel Well-Known Member

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    I still feel it is silly for the NSW zoo board to decide to send the two aging elephants at Taronga across to WPZ for their "retirement" , and squash 5 younger elephants into an improved , but still relatively miniscule , elephant enclosure in Sydney .
    I agree with Pat that elephants need space -- lots of it , and variety , if they are going to be happy . And even if someone takes him on , and he loses his wager , he should still be able to put forward his views ( even if he just tones them down a little ) as this is what the forum is for .

    I do wonder however , about the whole idea about boredom/breeding .
    Both Springfield MO and Portland OR seem to have no trouble breeding elephants , and neither of them are open range zoos like Monarto , Werribee or Orana Park .
    However I do feel that the zoos with space should be given first pick when it comes to housing elephants , or choosing not to -- as in the case of Orana

    I also hope that the new elephants at Sydney get to do a lot more than going for walks outside their enclosure ..... Aucklands elephants often help out with any heavy haulage within the zoo ..... OK , it aint the rain forest in Sri Lanka , but it sure beats an indoor treadmill at Alaska Zoo ! The elephants seem to enjoy getting their workout , not to mention the big crowds of people that watch the spectacle .....
     
  15. patrick

    patrick Well-Known Member

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    good on you nigel and Zoo_Boy.

    interestingly, so far nobody has decided to take me on on my wager. i take it that means the pro-importers even acknowledge that taronga and melbourne will never be able to contribute that sort of money to conservation.

    i suppose one reason i'm so full-on about the elephants issue (though really, who isn't?) is that i used to fully support the idea. but after a while i started to see the zoos whole "conservation" excuse as somewhat transperant. and that angered me. as someone who is passionate about conservation it made me furious not because the zoos where spending so much money on their elephants, but because they where making out as if it was going to make some sort of an impact on the animals in the wild. in the end, i felt the elephant debate brings out the very essence of what a modern zoo stands for and i had to think about what it was they where really trying to acheive.

    elephants aren't like lion tamarins or some endangered parrot. they are not a species that can be brought into captivity, easily housed, sent to every zoo in the world, bred in large numbers and then re-released back into the wild. its not particuarly appropriate nor is it really required right now. the biggest issue facing elephants in the wild is ironically the biggest issue facing them in captivity - space.

    in these back and forth discussions i feel as if when broken down, the core of pro-elephant argument is simply that keeping elephants raises awareness. i can only assume that you believe "awareness" amongst the average australian that elephants are endangered is something that will somehow save them from extinction in the wild?

    and how is that? how many people do you think leave the zoo and decide to become members of WWF? if they do they will certainly have to look into it themselves because last time i went to the zoo i don't remember anyone trying to encourage me to join a conservation orginisation. i don't even remember them asking me for money (other than the entry fee and for some really bad satay sticks!). they didn't tell me what i could do to save elephants. i suppose the truth is, short of joining or donating to a conservation orginasation there isn't anything i can do! i live in australia, not asia. there are no wild elephants here. i can't vote for a government that is proposing to protect them in the wild... oh wait, they did ask me for money for elephants! i forgot! they asked me to "sponsor" the melbourne zoo elephants. hmmmm. no thanks. i can't see how contributing to the elephants food bill helps protect them in the wild.

    no. you see, i think people walk into the zoo already very aware that elephants are endangered, and i think they walk out happy they saw one and promptly forget all about them. because the zoo certainly didn't propose that they do anything about it. if anything it gave them a false sense of security that, even though they don't care enough about it to do something, somebody (in this case the zoo) else does.

    truth is, not only was the everyday zoo visitor not encouraged to do anything to save elephants, they didn't even get the whole story of why they should.

    i once sent melbourne zoo an email asking them why, whilst scientists predicted a sumatran orangutan extinction looming as little a 5-10 years from now, the zoo failed to educate anyone on this. instead they offered a distribution map, a little drawing and a few paragraphs on orangutan life. within this they mentioned that orangs where "endangered". thats it. i asked them why they didn't tell people that they where really ,really endangered. why they didn't tell them that they looked like they will be the first great ape to disappear from the wild. that it was going to happen not just within their lifetime, but probably within their pet dogs as well! that it was extra especially important to preserve orangs in the wild over even other species, because scientists had discovered wild orangs have a "culture". that different groups learn different knowledge about surviving in the wild. important information passed on from mother to child about where their was fruit in their part of the forest and at what time. how to fish for termites and communicate with other orangutans. these solitary apes actually have a very complex understanding of there surroundings and it is why, rehabilitation centers find it impossible to ever leave their charges fully independant in the jungle. they don't know how to survive in the forest anymore. and with nobody to teach them - they never will. therfore captive breeding of orangutans will only ever preserve genetic material. if the wild population dies out, so to will the knowledge that comes with survival in the wild. it will be lost forever and re-introduction will be (no pun intended, okay maybe a little one) a fruitless exercise.

    i proposed that they offer much more colourful and detailed information on the real situation with orangutans. i asked them why they didn't offer this reality check for visitors and then a donation box for one of the counteless projects that was trying to halt the extinction of the apes in indonesia. i wanted high-intensity fund raising!!

    - do you know what they told me? and i'll find the email if nobody believes this. they told me it was "too depressing".

    that the zoo felt that if it enlightened visitors to the reality of the situation with many species, that the whole zoo experience was a downer, and discouraged people from visiting.

    i would argue that this is only because the zoo doesn't offer them anything to do about it.

    so i lost faith in the whole "awareness" argument. awareness of a problem provides nothing unless you offer an alternative as well. i would argue that most people already have an sense of awareness that the environment and everything associated with it, is under threat. and i don't think the zoo does a particuarly good job of offereing them anything more than this, or any real incentive, ideas or options about what to do about it.

    i don't think that the zoo doesn't have the potential to do this. like i said, a donation box and some more realistic and informative signage goes a long way in my eyes.

    what the zoo does do effectively is provide a good day out with the kids. it provides schoolchildren with an opportunity to learn about ecology and zoology and about animals in general. in some cases, especialy in the case of native animals, zoos can provide high intensity breeding and release programs, but as we often discuss here on the forum - "breeding programs" for exotic species, the bulk of most of the animals at the zoo, can often become a bit of a joke. with so much of a reliance on available space and the ability to secure import permits and funds to do so, that the breeding of the animals is severly compromised.

    it is mentioned in an earlier post by jelle that "zoos have an obligation to maintain wild animals for public viewing and education". well i don't think keeping elephants is an obligation, i think its a priveledge.

    zoos have changed over the last decade and a half. they have changed from places where animals where housed in cages - to places where they live in naturalistic exhibits and the zoos started talking "breeding programs" and "consevation" as their primary purpose. but public opinion has changed at a faster rate than zoos have managed to change themselves. no other animal stirs up quite as much controversy in a zoo as an elephant and for very good reason. the one great thing that has come of this whole saga - is that hopefully it has made the zoos realise that they kinda missed the point a bit. that poeple really where expecting something radically different from them.

    and so i hope this elephant debate, regardless of their arrival or not, forces the zoo management to rethink their entire purpose of being. this whole thing is causing the australian zoos the biggest headaches and influx of negative publicity in their history of their existance - and i'm loving it!

    because this is going to teach them a lesson they will never forget. they will be forced to decide on what it is they really stand for and in the end our zoos will be all the better for it. are they a conservation organisation, theme park, educational facility, breeding center....???

    because in the case of the elephants it illustrates that trying to be all in one can sometimes result in one purpose compromising another until in the end all you have is a very mediocre result.
     
    Last edited: 21 Jun 2006
  16. Zooish

    Zooish Well-Known Member

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    I think this whole debate which patrick brought up is something which ALL zoos are guilty of, and it really applies to all endangered species. The elephants saga just brought these issues to the surface.

    Let's face it, the real reason zoos display elephants is to attract visitors and raise attendence figures. They are guaranteed crowd-pullers. The problem then becomes what the zoos do with the money they earned. Does the money go into development of new habitats? Or does it sponsor in-situ conservation projects?
     
  17. Kifaru Bwana

    Kifaru Bwana Well-Known Member

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    Zooish

    I speak from an purily European perspective. Zoos are required to remodel their exhibits to suit the behavorial and social needs of elephants in zoos. Zoos that cannot provide adequate facilities for a bull holding are treated as non-breeding locations. These only receive female non-reproductive older range elephants. Which means the species will eventually disappear from that collection.

    The EEP and certainly individual zoos raise large amounts of money from their elephant exhibits for in situ conservation, also a demand from the EEP coordinator.

    The EEP Coordinator, Rotterdam Zoo, provides financial assistance for elephant conservation projects in India, Myanmar etcetera. Every year new projects are incorporated and there is great coordination with IUCN's Asian elephant specialist group members on this.

    Zoos in Europe are actually breeding Asian and African elephants successfully and continue to improve on their breeding record. Currently, some 10-12 Asian calves and 3-4 Africans are born each year. The track record for Asians is particularly impressive as the population is an ageing one (compared to a relatively young African population with many individuals yet to attain breeding age).

    I guess particularly on the social and breeding prospect side of the equation zoos in Australia have yet to make an impact (as indeed zoos in the US need to - with only this year a elephant conservation strategy for zoos being unveiled for the next 15 years). The track record in Europe envisages self-sustaining populations of elephants by 2015 for both taxa. And the Asian elephant programme is certainly well on track to achieving that aim much earlier than expected previously.

    patrick and Zukipah what do you think is missing on the Australian front with the issues that I raised concerning the elephant imports and breeding/exhibit outlooks.

    Zooish on your second point: yes, zoos see elephants as crowd pullers, but within the zoo context they serve to educate visitors as to the plight of elephants in the wild and their uniqueness (and thus their value to conserve). In that respect their value is untold many times over them as individuals. WWF and IUCN, the principal conservation authorities, benefit immensely from attention to the species by visitors to zoos (as most people will never be able to make the roundtrip to a PA to view them in the wild). As to the money aspect: zoos should both invest in new exhibits that better serve the social and behavioral needs of their occupants and to sponsor in-situ projects. Increasingly zoos are required by their respective breeding programme managers to contribute financially to in-situ conservation and interlinking with managers of wild populations for mutual benefit. On the latter, veterinary protocols in captivity have been used to translocate elephants safely. In addition behavioral and social research in zoos can have a positive impact on the management of the species in protected areas.
     
  18. patrick

    patrick Well-Known Member

    Joined:
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    2,449
    Location:
    melbourne, victoria, australia
    jelle,

    the situatiion of elephants in zoos is by no means one that is all clean cut and easy to define worldwide. i think that is why it causes so much debate. there is a huge spectrum of examples of housing situations, breeding situations, social situations and conservation support that differ from zoo to zoo.

    when i talk of elephants, though many of the issues may apply elesewhere in the world, i am talking purely from an australian perspective. here the situation is somewhat magnified since we have, and always have had, very few zoos and even fewer with elephants.

    like most other places in the world our zoos where no better when it came to providing for our elephants. both melbourne and taronga zoo (the two zoos planning on importing elephants from thailand) housed their animals in very small inadequate facilities and as a result, all the usual health problems associated with these living conditions where showing signs.

    these two zoos needed to update their exhibits and they knew that meant spending big money. i suppose they where naturally reluctant to do this unless they felt committed to keeping elephants in the long term.

    eventually they made the decision to continue to keep elephants long-term and to build new exhibits. if they where to continue to keep them then they would need to breed them and this would mean acquiring more....and so things played out from here.

    but i think what happened was that once this decision was made to keep elephants. zoo management then decided not to do the obvious and move the elephants to their sister open range zoo.

    they figured they could build something in the city that would suffice, and thus get the attendance figures there to rise. this certainly was the case. the year melbournes new exhibit opened, the zoo saw the highest attendance figures the zoo had ever experienced. melbournians especially have a real sense of community and we had been fund-raising for close to a decade to build our elephants their new exhibit.

    but for me and many others when opening day came, so to did an element of shock. the facilities looked great, a new elephant barn, a gorgeous little re-creation of a thai village, the elephant swimming pool... but for the more animal-savy visitors there was one uncomfortable aspect.

    it really wasn't that much bigger than the old enclosure.

    sure it was bigger, i mean the new exhibit is more like four times bigger. but when you are talking about one of the smallest elephant exhibits in the world (and melbournes was) four times bigger suddenly doesn't seem like that much. still the elephants where clearly much happier than they where in the old one and the zoo managed to dodge any criticisms for awhile.

    but then taronga tried to play catch-up and built an even smaller new enclosure. unlike melbournes it didn't even have breeding facilites. originally, taronga zoo had planned just to bring in baby female elephants. the plan was to send the old elephants to their open range zoo, which could accomodate them with cheap alterations to, due to a death, their now vacant african bull exhibit. the baby elephant would be easy to manage, star attractions.

    but people naturally got angry. the new exhibit was crap! not only was it totally unsuitable for breeding elephants, the original elephants will not even benefit from it! the zoo had always made out like integrating the old elephants with the new ones would be attempted, but it was clear it was never to be part of the plan. unlike melbourne, tarongas zoo's new elephant exhibit opened with no elephants at all. i think it gave people a different perspective.

    the 21st century elephant exhibit looked pretty much like the old one. it wasn't some grand improvement that succeeded all expectations. the had essentailly just rebuilt the same thing in another part of the zoo. it was glossed up with waterfalls and palm trees, a thai-style barn and a swimming pool but the major improvements where for visitors. this was touted by the zoo as the "hilton for elephants" and "world-class" and yet, in reality it was just much of the same.

    because you ask anyone what the first thing they would expect from a new "world-class" elephant exhibit and everyone will say "space".

    and thats what australians wanted too. we wanted them to have space. space, SPACE, SPACE!!!!!

    thats all! thats all the public really asked for. and it couldn't have been said louder, clearer or for any longer an amount of time!

    it was up to the zoo experts to add restraint chutes, rubber flooring, bull facilities and all that stuff. we, the public, don't know anything about that anyway, we just know that elephants need space, space and lots of SPACE!!! and thats what we demanded from day one.

    but when the zoos finally got around to building us our new exhbits they didn't deliver on this. the only prerequisite that we had asked for!

    and they wonder why, when it came to bringing more elephants from thailand that people got upset????

    after wasting 15 million of taxpayers money on an exhibit we think is lousy!!!

    so, for most people - this is what started them off. the new exhibits are still too small. it made people wonder why, the obvious answer of sending all their elephants to open range zoos wasn't considered.

    and the truth is there is only one simple answer to this, making money and something i think played a big part but isn't often mentioned - the prestige that comes with a zoo that has gorillas, tigers, giraffes and elephants... to put it simply, i don't think zoo management, who wanted their zoos to be considered "world-class" liked the idea of not having elephants in the collection.

    but put the pressure on the zoo about why they didn't act on the obvious and move the elephants and all they can respond with is "the city zoos can potentially acheive greater awareness".

    right, awareness that buys consevation dollars. conservation dollars that make up for the 30 million you spent on building a substandard exhibit.

    you see, once you come to the conclusion that the elephants stayed in the city for commercial reasons and all the talk that taronga zoo in particular have fed the public in their campaign to get the elephants was rubbish, you sort of start to see through the whole conservation excuse.

    australia could have lead the way by showing the world that elephants only belonged in open range zoos. it would have been easy too - they only had to move eight animals, and they even already owned the open-range zoos that could house them. instead, by ignoring peoples expections, with just that one important issue of space - they got every animal welfare advocate, educated conservationist and anyone else who bothered to look at the facts and figures, off-side.

    and it has fuelled a bigger debate about keeping elephants in zoos in general because the answer to why they didn't provide them with space brings to peoples attention that in the end conservation has taken a back seat.

    and so they can wear it.

    jelle, i hope this better gives you an understanding of why the controversy of australia importing elephants has caused such a world-wide attention. it may seem stupid on the surface, but given the history of the situation i hope you understand why so many people, myself included have come to find the whole idea a little dodgy.

    i don't think the zoos would have come under anywhere near as much fire had they broken peoples perception of an elephant in a "zoo" and bult them 15 acre exhibits in the country.

    personally, i would love to see a healthy asian elephant breeding program start up in australia. but i'm over compromises and i'm definately over the excuse of "conservation" being used as a free ticket by zoos to do whatever they want. they have hidden under the conservation veil long enough. if thats what they are really about, then its time they started proving it.
     
    Last edited: 21 Jun 2006
  19. jay

    jay Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    8 Jan 2004
    Posts:
    1,912
    Location:
    brisbane, qld, australia
    Patrick et al
    I wasn't going to get into this arguement but I couldn't resist one comment.
    Pat, that description of the elephants in the wild sounds wonderful. I am enturely jeolous of you.
    Only one think. I will NEVER get to see that because I will never get the oppurtunity to travel there. So seeing elephants in the zoos is the ONLY way I will get to see them in the flesh. Documentaries, which animals rights groups advocate as being the ideal way to see animals, is just not realistic.
    Sop yes, the reason I would like to see elephants in Australia is so that I can see them. Selfish yes. As for your wager I won't take it up beacuse you are probably right.

    All this reminds me of a woman I know who is an advocate of animal rights. Fanaticly against any kind of animal/human contact ( even whale watching)
    This is the same woman who once held in her arms a baby gorilla ( the first one born at Melbourne, forgot his name) and goes into raptures about it. When challenged she says that would forgo that experience if it meant no goriilas in captivity. So I ask - if you feel so strongly about it, why did you agree to hold him in the first place. You don't live up tou your values. She never can answer that.

    Jason
     
  20. Nigel

    Nigel Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    23 Jan 2004
    Posts:
    736
    Location:
    Wellington , New Zealand
    fundraising ......

    i proposed that they offer much more colourful and detailed information on the real situation with orangutans. i asked them why they didn't offer this reality check for visitors and then a donation box for one of the countless projects that was trying to halt the extinction of the apes in indonesia. i wanted high-intensity fund raising!!

    You will recognise this as a quote from Patrick on this thread .

    Reading his passionate comments , I wonder -- is it the Melbourne Zoos management and attitude towards pro conservationists that is getting up Patricks nostrils , rather than the whole issue of trying to conserve elephants before they die out alltogether in the wild .....
    I would be in the same boat if I got the same patronising nonsensical responses from my local zoo , thats for sure .

    Wellington Zoo is not a perfect zoo ( Far from it !! ) but for your ( Patricks) information and interest , there is an informative notice board about the plight of tigers worldwide -- including estimated numbers of each species still alive in the wild , and also how many species are extinct ( or close to it )
    There is a donation box beside the Sumatran tiger enclosure , right beside the notice , and about half of the daily keeper talk on the tigers is directly aimed at informing the public of the plight of tigers worldwide . The people are asked to give a monetary donation -- and no apologies if someone is offended by the request , either !

    As part of the talk also involves giving the tiger a snack , and opportunities for fairly good close up shots , people are more than happy to stick around and watch , ask questions about tigers to the keepers , the keeper gets the opportunity to examine the tiger at close range , the tiger enjoys getting a complimentary vitamin flavoured thickshake , and people DO give money towards tiger conservation -- both within the zoos and in overseas reserves

    All in all its a good party , and all parties benefit something , even if it is just a small thing . This type of fundraising works wewll here for Wellington Zoo
    and I see no reason why it cant work in other zoos if it is thought through carefully . If you have a look at all the tiger/keeper photos in the Wellington Zoo photo album on Jays website , you can appreciate that there will be very few other places in the world where you can see a tiger so close -- despite the barriers . I took the photos during the tiger talk , and even though I know the keeper , I was given no special priveledges to get any closer to the tiger than anyone else that was there .

    Patrick -- feel free to send this to the Melbourne Zoo management if you wish . If its good enough for the Sumatran tigers , it can be good enough for elephants , or any other animal for that matter .