Female elephant “Tania” at Targu Mures zoo, Romania

and the unsolved problem of elderly females among the EEP elephant stock

Since September 2012, 37y.o. female Asian elephant “Tania” has been living at Targu Mures zoo, Romania. According to Romanian Press articles, “Tania”  suffers from loneliness, http://bucharestherald.com/dailyevents/41-dailyevents/37509-she-suffers-from-loneliness-tania-the-only-elephant-from-a-romanian-zoo-who-tried-to-escape-

Tania“ was born in the wild and, after her import, at first was kept solitary in a tiny enclosure at Plaisance du Touch zoo, France, until the year 2004. Then, in 2004, she was transferred to the new facility of Terra Natura at Benidorm zoo, Spain, where she had access to conspecifics again – after a period of almost 30 years of loneliness. Though “Tania” turned out to be an elephant of a more difficult character, she was able to form bonds with  females “Petita” and “Khaing Soe Soe” there. But since Benidorm zoo had to reduce its elephant stock in 2009 due to financial problems, “Tania” had to move to the French zoo La Barben. Unfortunately, at La Barben zoo, all efforts to introduce her to the 2nd female, “Dora” failed and thus, “Tania” had to be removed again only two years later in 2011, this time to Bergamo zoo, Italy. But again, it turned out to be impossible to introduce her successfully to local female “Rupa”.

Presently, at Targu Mures zoo “Tania” is kept solitary; still it is unclear whether or when another female could be put together with  her or if such efforts would be more successful in the future.

“Tania” is just one poor example for the unsolved problem of providing adequate conditions for many of those, mostly elderly, female non-breeder elephants among European zoos despite the existence of the EEP management programmes for both species. Once females reach the age of about 25 years and older, most of them become quite dominant, which makes it even more difficult to bring in other females as company. Thus, it is almost unpredictable if two females predestined to become companions by an EEP decision, will be on good terms or rather will stay incompatible; the only way to find out is by trial and error.

Best chances to find new special partners even for dominant females, seem to occur when several conspecifics of the same sex are available. This  requires a certain amount of space; however, wherever enough space is available, zoos all over Europe prefer to establish a breeding facility instead. This is why in the whole of Europe there is not a single facility able to keep 4 or more elderly non-kin females without human management and regulation of their social behaviour. In most cases, just one single outdoor enclosure is available with a capacity for keeping 2 or 3 females only. Those conditions induce the removal of females, who turn out to be incompatible to others, without any guaranties of introducing them successfully to a next “candidate”.

Many “problematic elephants” have been producing under those circumstances, suffering a real odyssey through several zoos, incapable of finding what female elephants need most regarding social requirements: stability and social partners.

Presently, the capacities of those few European zoos, which provide better conditions for elderly females, are reached. In the U.S., spacious sanctuaries are capable to take  females of both species, like in Tennessee (www.elephants.com) or California (www.pawsweb.org). Unfortunately, American AZA zoos seem to be quite conservative and reluctant in sending their animals to those facilities.

Nevertheless, in Europe a sanctuary-like institution is  urgently needed to host not only retiring circus elephants, but incompatible females of European zoos as well – in order to save further elephants from “Tania´s” fate.

European Elephant Group has been highlighting the need for such an institution since years. Recently, two Belgian keepers, Tony Verhulst and Sofie Goetghebeur, accompanied by another Dutch couple developed an ambitious project to establish such a sanctuary in Europe, it is called “Elephant Haven”, www.elephanthaven.com

During our annual meeting, which took place in October 2012, Tony and Sofie presented their ideas to our members.

Our organization wishes all the very best to them, and definitely would like to support this project, as soon as those plans should become more tangible.

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