By Beth Daley, Globe Staff
Ever feel bad for that elephant in the zoo?
New data being released today suggests you should be. A team of researchers in the journal Science reports that female elephants live far shorter lives in European zoos compared to elephants in protected populations in Africa and Asia.
Zoo elephant (Born Free Foundation)
Elephants have never done well in captivity. Lameness, herpes, infertility, tuberculosis have plagued the population. In fact, zoo elephant populations have never been self-sustaining and their numbers have to be periodically infused with wild animals.
The researchers, led by Ros Clubb of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in England, looked at data from more than 4,500 African and Asian elephants. They found that for African elephants, the median life span in zoos was 16.9 years compared to 56 years in a Kenyan protected elephant population.
And Asian elephants born in zoos lasted 18.9 years compared to 41.7 years for wild elephants used in the Burmese logging industry.
The research suggests that the animals suffer from both mental and physical ailments – from stress to obesity.
Since 2000, several zoos around the country have opted to send their elephants to sanctuaries or not replace those that died - and the work is sure to intensify debate whether zoos should keep elephants at all. Last week, the Los Angeles city council halted construction of that city’s $42 million elephant exhibit over concerns about elephant health.
Soon, one of the best ways for people to save some of the zoos’ most beloved animals is not to see them at all.