It has been discovered by the experts that elephants in zoos tend to prefer a social life to an empty cage.
The debate rages on regarding animal rights in zoos. Especially elephants are the focus of the discussion in the ethical dimensions of animal issues. Among some of the problems faced by these animals are: infertility, obesity and a short and miserable life.
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Now, elephants are normally very gregarious, intelligent and large-sized animals that have the capacity to explore their environments. Yet in zoos, they are confined to their cages and hardly given any opportunity at socializing with others of their kind.
Captivity and confinement have negative effects on these pachyderms. Many zoo administrators have shut down elephant exhibits, giving the alibi that they cannot meet the elephants’ requirements.
As for the critics, they claim that a zoo is no place for such a sensitive animal as an elephant. The limited enclosures of elephants are another tragedy in the making.
In conditions of wilderness, they normally run around the place. Their social needs are fully met in their natural settings. Yet in the zoos, they are neglected and left to vegetate in the worst of ways. It is a crying shame.
A novel study was carried out to determine the real needs of elephants in zoos. Some new information has come to light. Many of the conclusions reached by the study are rather surprising. Yet there you have it. Truth is often stranger than fiction.
According to Washington Post, 255 elephants at 68 zoos were examined in detail. The size of the exhibit was found to have no link with the obesity status, reproductive health or usual behavior of the elephant. Even those elephants that walked all day and those that didn’t showed no difference at all in their obesity rates.
Ultimately what emerged from the study was that elephants use their spaces differently. It is not the size of the enclosure that matters in the long run. Rather it is the use to which it is put that is of vital importance for the elephant’s health status and behavioral normality.
The quality of the space was the missing link. A variety of colorful facilities and creative methods of delivering food to the elephants counted for more in the long run than just space size.
Hard floors led to foot problems among elephants too. Also large and diverse social groups were a very necessary component in the elephants’ lives. They need like-minded company for mental enrichment.
Disruptions in the social lives of the elephants spelled trouble in the long run. These disturbances led to traumatic scars on the psyches of the elephants.
Whether the elephants are content in captivity is an altogether separate question though. More studies will need to be conducted to answer that question.
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This study got published in the journal PLOS One.