“The complex needs of this exceptionally intelligent, sensitive and social species can never be met in a zoo – captive elephants can suffer physically and psychologically.”
UK zoos and safari parks could soon be prohibited to keep or import new elephants into existing locked-up populations.
The new legislation is said to be introduced by Environment minister Zac Goldsmith to help bring an end to 70 years of elephants being kept in captivity in the UK.
It is also part of wider zoo reforms, due to be announced as part of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill later this year.
It will ban the importation of any new elephants and the existing population will be allowed to die out naturally.
Elephants in captivity
According to the RSPCA, elephants kept in captivity suffer mental illnesses and other physical issues such as arthritis.
Their lifespans are also drastically reduced. Experts say they only live for 17 years on average, in comparison with more than 50 years in the wild.
While it has been illegal for circuses to keep elephants since January 2020, 51 elephants still live in 11 zoos in the UK, including Woburn, Whipsnade, Colchester and Chester.
Lord Goldsmith is the Animal Welfare Minister. He said: “Elephants are iconic, thoughtful and highly intelligent animals, and deserve to be looked after in environments that reflect that.
“We have been clear that all zoo elephants must enjoy the highest possible welfare standards, and that is why we commissioned a robust 10-year-long report from the UK Elephant Welfare Group to suggest and make improvements in the way elephants are kept in UK zoos, and monitor progress.
“They have been given free rein to explore the issue and deliver whatever final recommendations they see fit, and their report will be completed this year and then considered by the UK’s Zoos Expert Committee. Government will respond early next year.”
‘Deeply poignant and significant’
International animal welfare charity Born Free has been campaigning on the issue for decades. Will Travers OBE, president of the charity said: “The complex needs of this exceptionally intelligent, sensitive and social species can never be met in a zoo – captive elephants can suffer physically and psychologically.
“Ending their exploitation is why our work began nearly 40 years ago, so this news is deeply poignant and significant for our charity.”
UK action plan for animal welfare
Last month, the UK government launched its first Action Plan for Animal Welfare.
The policy paper published by Environment Secretary George Eustice committed to a slew of new actions to ‘improve the treatment’ of animals in the UK and abroad.
Measures included ending the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening; examining the use of cages for poultry, and farrowing crates for pigs; cracking down on pet theft; increasing protections for kept wild animals by ending the low-welfare practice of keeping primates as pets, and improving standards in zoos.
The government also launched a Call for Evidence seeking public views on the fur trade to help authorities consider banning the import and sale of animal fur.
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