Recent Developments at the British Zoos Twycross and Woburn

In autumn 2012, Twycross zoo decided to change the management system of the zoo´s female elephants from free contact (FC) to protected contact (PC), which has already been planned for some time. In order to do so, a new so-called “PC wall” has been built inside the elephant house. According to the zoo, the management system was changed to enable the zoo´s elephants to act more naturally. Since it is desirable to obtain scientific evidence for positive changes in elephant behaviour under PC, Twycross zoo is working with the University of Nottingham School of Veterinary Medicine and Science to study the behaviour of the elephants in the new management system.

Furthermore, in October 2012 it emerged that three keepers of Twycross zoo were not only  dismissed, but for a short time arrested by policemen after beating the zoo´s female elephant “Tonzi” in her pen, using bamboo canes. We do not know whether this incident occurred before or after Twycross zoo changed its keeping system to PC.  It’s very encouraging that with Twycross a further zoo is no longer willing to accept the beatings which only occur in free contact systems. They even went so far as to report this to the authorities as animal cruelty.

Now, nine out of 14 elephant-keeping British zoos are managing all of their elephants in PC, while only five still persist with free contact management of females.

One of them, Woburn Safari Park, seems to be developing in a totally different direction: During the summer of 2012, the zoo adjusted its enclosures by building a new Whipsnade zoo-like show arena. It is used not only for elephant performances, but for meet and greet-sessions between the public and the elephants as well, enabling visitors to touch the elephants, separated from each other just by a tiny wooden fence. Thus, massive accidents are bound to occur. The keepers of Woburn Safari Park do not only manage females “Chandrika” and “Damini” in free contact, but female “Yu Zin” as well – “Yu Zin” was managed for more than 10 years in protected contact at Emmen zoo/Netherlands, were she was kept before. At Woburn, she is even supposed to take part  in keeper-guided walks through the park.

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