Elephant information and Resources
Elephant Videos We Love
About the Asian Elephant: Elephant Family, a charity in England dedicated to saving the Asian Elephant, has lots of information about Asian Elephants and the threats they face.
Elephant Voices: loads of fascinating information about elephant behavior, communication, threats they are facing, etc. We LOVE this site and have just began to explore it.
72 Incredible Elephant Facts That Will Make You Want to Save Them
The Global Elephant Sanctuary: Co-Founded by Scott Blais, one of the founders of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee
Elephant Voices: loads of fascinating information about elephant behavior, communication, threats they are facing, etc. We LOVE this site and have just began to explore it.
From The Science is in: Elephants Are Aven Smarter Than We Realized, Scientific American, Feb. 26, 2014:
"Because of recent experiments designed with the elephant’s perspective in mind, scientists now have solid evidence that elephants are just as brilliant as they are big: They are adept tool users and cooperative problem solvers; they are highly empathic, comforting one another when upset; and they probably do have a sense of self...many elephant experts maintain that, given everything we know about the creatures’ mental lives, continuing to keep any of them locked up is inexcusable."
"Elephant clan members talk to one another with a combination of gentle chirps, thunderous trumpets and low-frequency rumbles undetectable to humans, as well as nudges, kicks and visual signals such as a tilt of the head or flap of the ear. They deliberate among themselves, make group decisions and applaud their achievements."
"The latest research on the well-being of U.S. zoo elephants is not particularly encouraging. With many collaborators, animal welfare expert and Vistalogic, Inc., consultant Cheryl Meehan recently completed a giant study on nearly all of the 300 or so elephants in North American zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The researchers assessed the physical and mental health of captive elephants with a combination of photographs, videos, blood and hormone tests, veterinary reports, and surveys filled out by caretakers: about 75 percent of the elephants were overweight or obese; between 25 and 40 percent had foot or joint problems of some kind depending on the year; and 80 percent displayed behavioral tics, such as pacing and continual head bobbing or swaying."
"Refurbishing elephant enclosures so they are roomier and more intellectually stimulating is at once an acknowledgment and dismissal of the research on elephant intelligence and welfare. After all, if the zoos really have the animals’ best interests at heart, they would close their elephant exhibits."
Seattle time's opinion piece by Thanh Tan, "Have Your Say," 3/12/2015, outlining the positions of city leadership and reminding us why we need to keep the pressure on City Council and Mayor Murray. Includes a survey where you can express your opinon.
"City leaders should use their bully pulpit to find a resolution. In their dual roles as leaders of the voter-approved Seattle Park District and the City Council, council members hold the purse strings, including 30 percent or $6 million of the zoo’s annual public funding. Why give up now?"
Also read the LETTER to Zoo leadership signed by Mayor Murray and 5 city council members. This letter shows that these leaders understand the needs of the elephants. Press them to act on their morals by calling Mayor Murray at 206-684-4000 and emailing all decision makers
Has been working with diligance and compassion on this issue for many years. Their page is FULL of information and resources.
David Hancocks was the director of the Woodland Park Zoo from 1976 - 1984.
Mr. Hancocks resigned his position because of what he considered an unacceptable situation for the elephants. We have found his writing and ideas to be some of the most useful in understanding what is wrong with keeping elephants in zoos. Here are some quotes from Mr. Hancocks, along with links to the articles in which they appear.
"Woodland Park Zoo’s staff claim to be experts in elephant care, but they reveal no understanding of elephant biology. They are capable only of prolonging the limited circumstances of zoo life, believing that elephants can be forced to fit zoo regimes. Elephants are inherently ill-adapted for zoo life, and their presence in zoos serves no demonstrated purpose for conservation or for public education. They cannot thrive even in the best zoos, for the demands of public display will always take priority over their psychological, behavioral and social needs." David Hancocks on Crosscut.com, April 2, 2015.
Hancocks on what zoos are vs. what they could be: "Zoos need mostly to change their attitude. They are trying to be many things, but they are dancing on an entirely inadequate stage of their own making...If zoos started their planning and design processes by asking such questions how they could illustrate and celebrate bio-diversity, or help people understand the interconnectedness of all living things, or demonstrate interdependence, or help people understand how healthy eco-systems operate and are maintained, instead of just asking such simplistic questions as “where shall we build the new bear exhibit?” then we could begin to see some important developments in zoos.... So before zoos start seeking collaborative relations they must first come to recognize their own shortcomings, and seek a new perspective. They must become their own vigorous critics." Hancocks in coversation with zoo advocate Jordan Schaul, National Geographic Voices, March 13, 2012.
"[Elephant] 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." Hancocks in Australia's The Age, June 19, 2006
"Instead of always developing exhibits based upon animals as objects, zoos could usefully tackle the challenge of building exhibits around ideas and concepts – such as interdependence, deep time, extinction, and evolution as examples.
For this, zoos could advantageously borrow museum and gallery exhibit techniques, and use microscopes, 3-D models, dioramas, jewel box exhibits, and a diversity of art media and moving image technology. Their collections could include not just animals but also bones, shells, nests, seedpods, flowers, geology specimens, all to support stories, to foster intellectual connection, and to encourage esthetic delights of the world of nature.
Zoos do themselves and their society a disservice by creating an atmosphere in which visitors approach them only with a mindset of social recreation, rather than of intellectual discovery." David Hancocks, The Future and Ethics of Zoos, Museums Australia Natural Conference, May 2007
"Elephants Are Dying Out in America's Zoo's" by Michael J. Berens, Seattle Times, 12/1/2012:
"Publicly, the zoo industry was claiming — and continues to claim today — that "elephants are thriving inside zoos." It's a message that AZA officials have delivered repeatedly to lawmakers and regulators, trumpeted in news releases, and highlighted in a recent national marketing campaign.
But they know it's not true. And it never has been.
Rather, the decades-long effort by zoos to preserve and protect elephants is failing, exacerbated by substandard conditions and denial of mounting scientific evidence that most elephants do not thrive in captivity, The Seattle Times has found.
The overall infant-mortality rate for elephants in zoos is a staggering 40 percent — nearly triple the rate in the Asian or African wild."
"Because it was an unnatural and invasive procedure, keepers had to train Chai to accept artificial insemination. First, they needed her to learn how to stand still for long periods without panicking. Zookeepers chained Chai's four legs to anchors, pulling them tight so she couldn't move an inch — a technique called "short chaining."
In the next phase, zookeepers got her used to having a long, flexible hose inserted into her winding, 3-foot-long reproductive tract. Zookeepers conducted mock inseminations on Chai for about two years.
"Privately-owned sanctuaries are not open to the public and "inhibit zoos' efforts to preserve and study elephants," says Bruce Bohmke, deputy director of Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo and member of the AZA national committee that oversees elephant management inside accredited zoos. "We believe that breeding is essential to sustaining elephant populations in zoos," Bohmke said.
Despite repeatedly telling the public that elephants are thriving in captivity, the zoo industry knows otherwise and is desperate to breed more elephants. For every elephant born in a U.S. zoo, on average two others die, a Seattle Times analysis has found. Under current conditions, with just 288 elephants inside 78 accredited U.S. zoos, they could be "demographically extinct" within 50 years, studies show."
"To dissuade accredited zoos from endorsing sanctuaries — as the Detroit and Milwaukee zoos had done — the national association adopted harsh punishments designed to hurt zoos' bottom lines.
This summer, the AZA used that power when Toronto City Council members voted to shut down the zoo's elephant exhibit and retire three African elephants to the California sanctuary. Council members decided that captivity was harmful.
The zoo association revoked Toronto's accreditation, preventing the exchange of animals with other accredited zoos.
But the association does allow zoos to give their unwanted elephants to circuses, where breeding can occur."
"At sanctuaries, elephants behave in ways rarely seen in zoos. They move as a herd in a straight line over long distances. They stop to play. They often take midday naps by lying on the dusty ground wherever they can find shade. On the hottest days, they might wander to a pond and submerge their massive bodies.
Also striking is what is not seen: elephants standing still while repetitiously rocking their heads or shuffling their feet for hours at a time — a common behavior among zoo elephants.
Many of the world's top elephant researchers call it "stereotypical behavior," which they say is aggravated by close-quarter captivity and stress.
Up to 40 percent of elephants in zoos display symptoms, zoo-industry studies show.
Dr. Joyce Poole, recognized as a global elephant expert, reports that stereotypical behavior — the kind exhibited by many zoo elephants — is not found among elephants in the wild.
All three of Woodland Park's elephants — Chai, Bamboo and Watoto — have exhibited this behavior, said Alyne Fortgang, a Seattle animal-welfare advocate who has monitored the elephants for a decade.
Woodland Park officials do not disagree. But they insist that the prolonged foot shuffling or head rolling is normal, healthy behavior. Woodland Park's deputy director Bruce Bohmke characterized the behavior as a sign that elephants are anticipating food or eager to return to the barn."
"At PAWS, we provide elephants with large, natural habitat environments that better meet elephants’ physical, social and psychological needs. We never use dominance training or bullhooks to manipulate elephants; we are a protected contact facility. There presently exists no state-of-the-art keeping of elephants in captivity, and because no captive elephant offspring has ever been reintroduced to the wild, and there is no plan to do so, we do not think it is ethical to breed elephants.
As long as there are elephants in captivity, we are obligated to provide the best possible conditions for them. This includes an end to the archaic use of inhumane bullhooks and free contact management, no more elephants in circuses and other types of “entertainment,” and greater progress toward providing elephants with captive facilities that far better meet their needs." Ed Stewart, PAWS co-founder, "No Ethical Way to Keep Elephants in Captivity," National Geographic Voices, May 3, 2013
This is by far the most informative, moving piece we have found about elephants. We are compiling important quotes below, but the complete article deserves your attention. If you read one thing, READ THIS
[T]oday’s elephant populations are suffering from a form of chronic stress, a kind of species-wide trauma. Decades of poaching and culling and habitat loss...have so disrupted the intricate web of familial and societal relations by which young elephants have traditionally been raised in the wild, and by which established elephant herds are governed, that what we are now witnessing is nothing less than a precipitous collapse of elephant culture....
Elephants, when left to their own devices, are profoundly social creatures. A herd of them is, in essence, one incomprehensibly massive elephant: a somewhat loosely bound and yet intricately interconnected, tensile organism. Young elephants are raised within an extended, multitiered network of doting female caregivers that includes the birth mother, grandmothers, aunts and friends. These relations are maintained over a life span as long as 70 years. Studies of established herds have shown that young elephants stay within 15 feet of their mothers for nearly all of their first eight years of life, after which young females are socialized into the matriarchal network, while young males go off for a time into an all-male social group before coming back into the fold as mature adults....
When an elephant dies, its family members engage in intense mourning and burial rituals, conducting weeklong vigils over the body, carefully covering it with earth and brush, revisiting the bones for years afterward, caressing the bones with their trunks, often taking turns rubbing their trunks along the teeth of a skull’s lower jaw, the way living elephants do in greeting. If harm comes to a member of an elephant group, all the other elephants are aware of it. This sense of cohesion is further enforced by the elaborate communication system that elephants use. In close proximity they employ a range of vocalizations, from low-frequency rumbles to higher-pitched screams and trumpets, along with a variety of visual signals, from the waving of their trunks to subtle anglings of the head, body, feet and tail. When communicating over long distances — in order to pass along, for example, news about imminent threats, a sudden change of plans or, of the utmost importance to elephants, the death of a community member — they use patterns of subsonic vibrations that are felt as far as several miles away by exquisitely tuned sensors in the padding of their feet....
[The] fabric of elephant society...[has] effectively been frayed by years of habitat loss and poaching, along with systematic culling by government agencies to control elephant numbers and translocations of herds to different habitats. The number of older matriarchs and female caregivers (or ‘‘allomothers’’) had drastically fallen, as had the number of elder bulls, who play a significant role in keeping younger males in line. In parts of Zambia and Tanzania, a number of the elephant groups studied contained no adult females whatsoever. In Uganda, herds were often found to be ‘‘semipermanent aggregations,’’...with many females between the ages of 15 and 25 having no familial associations....
As a result of such social upheaval, calves are now being born to and raised by ever younger and inexperienced mothers. Young orphaned elephants, meanwhile, that have witnessed the death of a parent at the hands of poachers are coming of age in the absence of the support system that defines traditional elephant life. ‘‘The loss of elephant elders,’’ Bradshaw told me, ‘‘and the traumatic experience of witnessing the massacres of their family, impairs normal brain and behavior development in young elephants.’’...
What Bradshaw and her colleagues describe would seem to be an extreme form of anthropocentric conjecture if the evidence that they’ve compiled from various elephant resesarchers, even on the strictly observational level, weren’t so compelling. The elephants of decimated herds, especially orphans who’ve watched the death of their parents and elders from poaching and culling, exhibit behavior typically associated with post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma-related disorders in humans: abnormal startle response, unpredictable asocial behavior, inattentive mothering and hyperaggression. Studies of the various assaults on the rhinos in South Africa, meanwhile, have determined that the perpetrators were in all cases adolescent males that had witnessed their families being shot down in cullings. It was common for these elephants to have been tethered to the bodies of their dead and dying relatives until they could be rounded up for translocation to, as Bradshaw and Schore describe them, ‘‘locales lacking traditional social hierarchy of older bulls and intact natal family structures.’’...
But according to Bradshaw and her colleagues, the various pieces of the elephant-trauma puzzle really come together at the level of neuroscience, or what might be called the physiology of psychology, by which scientists can now map the marred neuronal fields, snapped synaptic bridges and crooked chemical streams of an embattled psyche. Though most scientific knowledge of trauma is still understood through research on human subjects, neural studies of elephants are now under way. (The first functional M.R.I. scan of an elephant brain, taken this year, revealed, perhaps not surprisingly, a huge hippocampus, a seat of memory in the mammalian brain, as well as a prominent structure in the limbic system, which processes emotions.) Allan Schore, the U.C.L.A. psychologist and neuroscientist who for the past 15 years has focused his research on early human brain development and the negative impact of trauma on it, recently wrote two articles with Bradshaw on the stress-related neurobiological underpinnings of current abnormal elephant behavior....
‘‘We know that these mechanisms cut across species,’’ Schore told me. ‘‘In the first years of humans as well as elephants, development of the emotional brain is impacted by these attachment mechanisms, by the interaction that the infant has with the primary caregiver, especially the mother. When these early experiences go in a positive way, it leads to greater resilience in things like affect regulation, stress regulation, social communication and empathy. But when these early experiences go awry in cases of abuse and neglect, there is a literal thinning down of the essential circuits in the brain, especially in the emotion-processing areas.’’...
For Bradshaw, these continuities between human and elephant brains resonate far outside the field of neuroscience. ‘‘Elephants are suffering and behaving in the same ways that we recognize in ourselves as a result of violence,’’ she told me. ‘‘It is entirely congruent with what we know about humans and other mammals. Except perhaps for a few specific features, brain organization and early development of elephants and humans are extremely similar. That’s not news. What is news is when you start asking, What does this mean beyond the science? How do we respond to the fact that we are causing other species like elephants to psychologically break down? In a way, it’s not so much a cognitive or imaginative leap anymore as it is a political one.’’...
Most people are scared of showing...anthropomorphism...Some might think that the way I describe the elephant attacks makes the animals look like people. But people are animals.’’
Shortly after my return from Uganda, I went to visit the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, a 2,700-acre rehabilitation center and retirement facility situated in the state’s verdant, low-rolling southern hill country. The sanctuary is a kind of asylum for some of the more emotionally and psychologically disturbed former zoo and circus elephants in the United States — cases so bad that the people who profited from them were eager to let them go. Given that elephants in the wild are now exhibiting aberrant behaviors that were long observed in captive elephants, it perhaps follows that a positive working model for how to ameliorate the effects of elephant breakdown can be found in captivity....
And yet just as we now understand that elephants hurt like us, we’re learning that they can heal like us as well. Indeed, Misty has become a testament to the Elephant Sanctuary’s signature ‘‘passive control’’ system, a therapy tailored in many ways along the lines of those used to treat human sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder. Passive control, as a sanctuary newsletter describes it, depends upon ‘‘knowledge of how elephants process information and respond to stress’’ as well as specific knowledge of each elephant’s past response to stress. Under this so-called nondominance system, there is no discipline, retaliation or withholding of food, water and treats, which are all common tactics of elephant trainers. Great pains are taken, meanwhile, to afford the elephants both a sense of safety and freedom of choice — two mainstays of human trauma therapy — as well as continual social interaction.
Of course, Misty’s road to recovery — when viewed in light of her history and that of all the other captive elephants, past and present — is as harrowing as it is heartening. She and the others have suffered, we now understand, not simply because of us, but because they are, by and large, us. If as recently as the end of the Vietnam War people were still balking at the idea that a soldier, for example, could be physically disabled by psychological harm — the idea, in other words, that the mind is not an entity apart from the body and therefore just as woundable as any limb — we now find ourselves having to make an equally profound and, for many, even more difficult leap: that a fellow creature as ostensibly unlike us in every way as an elephant is as precisely and intricately woundable as we are. And while such knowledge naturally places an added burden upon us, the keepers, that burden is now being greatly compounded by the fact that sudden violent outbursts like Misty’s can no longer be dismissed as the inevitable isolated revolts of a restless few against the constraints and abuses of captivity.
They have no future without us. The question we are now forced to grapple with is whether we would mind a future without them, among the more mindful creatures on this earth and, in many ways, the most devoted. Indeed, the manner of the elephants’ continued keeping, their restoration and conservation, both in civil confines and what’s left of wild ones, is now drawing the attention of everyone from naturalists to neuroscientists. Too much about elephants, in the end — their desires and devotions, their vulnerability and tremendous resilience — reminds us of ourselves to dismiss out of hand this revolt they’re currently staging against their own dismissal. And while our concern may ultimately be rooted in that most human of impulses — the preservation of our own self-image — the great paradox about this particular moment in our history with elephants is that saving them will require finally getting past ourselves; it will demand the ultimate act of deep, interspecies empathy.
The other part of our newly emerging compact with elephants, however, is far more difficult to codify. It requires nothing less than a fundamental shift in the way we look at animals and, by extension, ourselves. It requires what Bradshaw somewhat whimsically refers to as a new ‘‘trans-species psyche,’’ a commitment to move beyond an anthropocentric frame of reference and, in effect, be elephants. Two years ago, Bradshaw wrote a paper for the journal Society and Animals, focusing on the work of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, a sanctuary for orphaned and traumatized wild elephants — more or less the wilderness-based complement to Carol Buckley’s trauma therapy at the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. The trust’s human caregivers essentially serve as surrogate mothers to young orphan elephants, gradually restoring their psychological and emotional well being to the point at which they can be reintroduced into existing wild herds. The human ‘‘allomothers’’ stay by their adopted young orphans’ sides, even sleeping with them at night in stables. The caretakers make sure, however, to rotate from one elephant to the next so that the orphans grow fond of all the keepers. Otherwise an elephant would form such a strong bond with one keeper that whenever he or she was absent, that elephant would grieve as if over the loss of another family member, often becoming physically ill itself.
To date, the Sheldrick Trust has successfully rehabilitated more than 60 elephants and reintroduced them into wild herds. A number of them have periodically returned to the sanctuary with their own wild-born calves in order to reunite with their human allomothers and to introduce their offspring to what — out on this uncharted frontier of the new ‘‘trans-species psyche’’ — is now being recognized, at least by the elephants, it seems, as a whole new subspecies: the human allograndmother. ‘‘Traditionally, nature has served as a source of healing for humans,’’ Bradshaw told me. ‘‘Now humans can participate actively in the healing of both themselves and nonhuman animals. The trust and the sanctuary are the beginnings of a mutually benefiting interspecies culture.’’
Buckley and Blais told me that they got word not long ago of a significant breakthrough in a campaign of theirs to get elephants out of entertainment and zoos: the Bronx Zoo, one of the oldest and most formidable zoos in the country, had announced that upon the death of the zoo’s three current elephant inhabitants, Patty, Maxine and Happy, it would phase out its elephant exhibit on social-behavioral grounds — an acknowledgment of a new awareness of the elephant’s very particular sensibility and needs. ‘‘They’re really taking the lead,’’ Buckley told me. ‘‘Zoos don’t want to concede the inappropriateness of keeping elephants in such confines. But if we as a society determine that an animal like this suffers in captivity, if the information shows us that they do, hey, we are the stewards. You’d think we’d want to do the right thing.’’