Elephants living in Canada are captive elephants. The climates in which they live and prosper are warm climates and if they have not been entrapped in the tourist or logging trades in Asia, then they have the opportunity to wander freely for kilometres each day in search of food and water along old migratory routes.And while they face many challenges in their native environments (something we’re working to change) having them live in captivity in zoos and circuses is not the answer at all.
This blog post reminds us why elephants don’t belong here. The three Toronto elephants finally found their home in California where they are free to wander unencumbered by enclosures. But there still are elephants in Canada and as a side note Tarzan Zerbini typically brings his elephants from the US to Canada each year to perform in a traveling circus(yes you heard that right) . This year they are embroiled in a lawsuit so they won’t be in their usual spots in Canada including Calgary, Lethbridge, Edmonton, and numerous stops in Ontario and Quebec.
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Thanks to Animal Justice for this post.
There are approximately 35 zoos in Canada, not including aquariums. Within these zoos, there are several different species of wild animals, not native to Canadian climate, living in captivity. There are several arguments commonly used to support the continued existence of zoos, including, but not limited to, amusement, education, research, and preserving endangered species. However, keeping wild animals in captivity means taking an animal away from its native habitat (1). Many animals are native to habitats with sunny weather and high temperatures year round, which when brought into captivity may be forced to spend their lives, year round, in North American Zoos. Canada, in particular, experiences a prolonged winter where the temperature is uninhabitable for animals not suited to its climate. This blog entry will focus on elephants in Canadian zoos and recent changes affecting their well-being.
Elephants are the largest of all land animals, adult males can weigh between 4,000 and 14,000 pounds and females can weigh between 6,000 and 8,000 pounds (2). Elephants living in an enclosure, where they are unable to live a life reflecting anything closet to normal, simply for the entertainment of the public is absurd. Wild animals in captivity should not be a weekend activity for the amusement of city dwellers. Entertainment, education, and research can be achieved without the confinement of wild animals in unnatural habitats, and preserving endangered species can be accomplished in appropriate sanctuaries.
It is true that elephants in zoos don’t have to cope with the challenges of living in the wild; however, these elephants face a variety of other challenges that they have no natural mechanism to cope with. The challenges that elephants face in the wild include poaching, predation, and drought. The challenges that elephants in captivity face include lack of space, standing on hard ground surfaces, inactivity, abnormal social situations, and captivity-associated stress.
Despite being provided with veterinary care and the attention of professional keepers, elephants in zoos routinely deal with problematic health issues, both mental and physical. Several health issues are caused specifically from a life of captivity, such as: obesity; arthritis; foot infections (the leading cause of death among captive elephants); reproduction problems; psychological disorders; early mortality; low fertility; and, engagement in a wide variety of abnormal behaviours, such as stereotypic swaying, killing of infants, and aggression toward other elephants (3).
All elephants require space, socialization, family, entertainment, and the freedom to enjoy their life. Wild elephants spend their days roaming large distances; their home terrain can be several hundred, or several thousand, square kilometres (4). Elephants are social animals and it is normal for an elephant to live in a large herd where security and comfort are guaranteed, socialization and resource sharing are part of daily life, and knowledge and experience can be shared with other members of the family. Elephants spend the majority of their days moving around and foraging for food. Most elephants are active up to 18-20 hours every day, keeping them fit, healthy, and happy. Elephants require an expansive amount of space in order to maintain their health. Their constant activity and movement exercises joints and ligaments, maintains muscle tone, burns fat, and ensures good blood flow (5).