April 2016

March 2016

North American Zoos import 17 elephants to boost their population without awaiting the Court decision

In March 2016, it became known that the Zoo Dallas, the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, and the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska imported 17 elephants between 6 and 25 years of age (of which 15 are under 12 years) from a game reserve in Swaziland, despite world-wide protest from animal welfare people and well known elephant scientists. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/03/160309-swaziland-zoos-african-elephants-transfer/

Although the date for the court hearing was scheduled for mid-March, at which the highly contested decision for the importation was to be reviewed, an aeroplane was secretly sent from Kansas City on March 5 to retrieve the elephants. The 17 elephants – one female had apparently died in December in the holding pens- were sedated and put into crates. The US court and the judge (who was in Namibia at the time) were confronted with the comment that unloading the elephants, and repeated sedation following the court ruling, would be life-threatening for the elephants. The judge and officials had no option but to allow the elephants to fly to the USA, so as not to compromise their health any further.

The EEG and especially the scientific Board, view the entire operation critically for several reasons:

  • 1. The court hearing should have been awaited in any case


  • 2. No whole family units were exported, so that the social bonds that had already been severed by splitting the original group were further disrupted among the export animals, and also left the 21 remaining elephants in Swaziland socially disrupted. The traumatic and possibly life-long consequences of such actions for elephants are known and, regarding the welfare of the animals, are to be condemned.


  • 3. The pressure on the habitat in the country of origin will not in any way, either short-term or long-term, be alleviated by such a small population reduction. Already in 2003 three US zoos imported 11 elephants from Swaziland apparently due to overpopulation.  That only 12 years later a further exportation occurred shows that the Big Game Parks management failed  to implement any population control methods such as immunocontraception.


  • 4. The elephant management strategy in the reserves of Swaziland is highly questionable. The elephants are kept in small enclosures that are less than a quarter the size of the actual reserve. Elephants are part of the African savannah and given sufficient space do not deplete their habitat. It appears the Swaziland problems are based on the fact that they do not keep a natural elephant population, but for some unknown reason only allows them a tiny fraction of the available reserve. In larger areas elephant populations regulate themselves.


  • 5. By this import and corresponding misinformation (“Room for Rhinos”) the US zoos are supporting the elephant-hostile management strategy of Big Game Parks and are dispersing among the public the biologically incorrect picture of overpopulation. It is a farce that the elephants had to leave Swaziland to make room for rhinos, as the elephant were kept in a separate small enclosure.


  • 6. Claims that the elephants would have had to be culled are incorrect. A reserve (and funding) had been found to keep the 18 elephants together, and the King of Swaziland had agreed to offer.


  • 7. There is no way that the  importation of 17 elephants be sufficient to stabilise the American zoo population, particularly as a recent study has shown that only one third of imported wild elephants reproduce at all in captivity. As the reason for the predictable collapse of the SSP population lies in the mismanagement and in inadequate cooperation between zoos, further import of wild elephants is irresponsible: Despite having a propitious initial breeding population, far too few successful births have been achieved through inappropriate choices of priorities - failure to build appropriate facilities and instead, increased efforts for artificial insemination.
  • Apart from the unacceptable effects on the imported animals it is a dubious development if zoos nowadays still try to compensate past omissions with import of wild elephants. As the issues –incorrect management strategies and absent cooperation between zoos - will still persist, we consider it unjustifiable to fall back on wild caught elephants.

In the EEG Magazine 27/2015 we deal in detail with population management of African elephants in the EEP sphere.


The population development in the EEP is also cause for concern. Therefore a similar intention for European zoos is not to be discounted, despite the fact that all scientific sources speak against new imports from the wild. 

More information can be found in our contribution regarding the discussion of future importation of African elephants to Europe in the EEG Magazine 27/2015 on page 66.

December 2015

Book tip

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February 2015

African elephant EEP - decisions for or against breeding?

On 07 January 2015, the German newspaper Thüringer Allgemeine Zeitung commented on the breeding attempts of elephants at Erfurt Zoo in Germany. The zoo opened a completely new facility three months prior to this date in order to start a breeding programme with 11 y.o. African elephant female "Chupa". The young female is already fertile, but according to the German paper, Dr Harald Schwammer,  the coordinator of the European breeding programme for African elephants, suggested "Kibo", a 9 y.o. juvenile male from Vienna´s Zoo Schoenbrunn, as her breeding partner to-be, although "Kibo" is not  fertile yet.

The paper goes on to say that  Erfurt´s Zoo Director, Dr Sabine Merz, suggested an additional adult male in order to enhance "Chupa´s" chances of breeding, but coordinator Dr Schwammer rejected this idea . An older male would only suppress young "Kibo", Dr Schwammer explained to the newspaper. Additionally,  there are not sufficient breeding males available, the coordinator continued. The German article can be viewed here: http://erfurt.thueringer-allgemeine.de/web/lokal/leben/detail/-/specific/Elefant-Kibo-wird-spaetestens-Anfang-April-in-Erfurt-erwartet-395024182

In other words, the coordinator of the African EEP is denying the Erfurt zoo the possibility of acquiring a fertile male and breeding with fertile young "Chupa".  It is well-known that male African elephants frequently reach sexual maturity and are fertile at a later age than Asian males. It is equally known, that the chances for fertile females to breed successfully  decrease with every further nulliparous year.

The coordinator’s excuses are untenable. .There are various counter-examples of African zoo elephants  to his argument that males could suppress each other´s reproductive success. During the 1960ies, Swiss Basle Zoo and German Kronberg Zoo both bred African elephants while housing two males, as well as British Howletts Wild Animal Park during the 1980ies. "Krueger" at Knowsley sired offspring in the presence of juvenile male "Nissim".  At Spanish wildlife park Cabarceno, males "Chiso" and "Cita" sired offspring during the 1990ies and 2000s while the park kept up to 3 adult males at the same time, as did breeding male "Pambo" ten years later in the presence of 10 y.o. "Coco".

In contrary to Dr Schwammer´s presumption, witnessing mating of adults clearly contributes to subsequent reproductive success of juvenile elephants. Vienna Zoo has not kept an adult male since years and thus, young "Kibo" is denied these important experiences of social learning. Apart from that, it does not matter if one of the males is infertile - as long as the other one reproduces successfully. All that matters at present is to breed with the nulliparous female before it’s too late.

The number of fertile African elephant males is indeed  low across Europe. But the main issue is not the absolute number of adult males, but rather an extremely unfavourable distribution of these individuals across zoos. Due to this, fertile males and females are incapable of using their reproductive potential to the full extent.

Across the EEP region, presently 49 male African elephants are kept in zoos and safari parks. Out of these, 13 are proven breeders. But only 6 of these 13 breeding males are kept with at least one fertile female  and have no daughters present.. This is less than half of all breeding males.

 Four breeding institutions desperately need to swap bulls in order to avoid inbreeding with their own daughter: "Tembo"/Berlin, "Tonga"/Hodenhagen, "Tusker"/Wuppertal (all in Germany), "Jums"/Howletts, UK

A further 3  breeding males are kept without fertile females, or with females that do not allow natural mating: "Yossi"/Ramat Gan, IL,  "Tembo"/Colchester, "Krueger"/Port Lympne, both in UK.

In addition to the proven breeders, 6 males are older than 20 years. Out of these, only one individual has a slight chance of reproducing naturally. The other five males are kept without fertile females: "Shaka"/Duisburg, GER,  "Afrique"/Monde Sauvage, BEL, "Carl"/Tallinn, EST, "Ben"/Thoiry, both F,  "Java"/Fasano, I.

Further 13 males are aged between 10 and 20 years. Only three of them have realistic chances to reproduce at the zoos of Toulouse, F, Lisbon, P, and Boras, S; whilst 5 of these 13 males have only limited chances to breed successfully. They should be swapped between zoos.  The last 5 males are kept without fertile females.

In total, there are currently 22 male Africans kept in European zoos that have no or very limited chances of reproducing, but would be more suitable partners for Erfurt Zoo´s female "Chupa" than Vienna Zoo´s "Kibo".

In addition to "Chupa", a further 37 fertile females in 13 zoos are waiting for an adequate breeding partner, plus 6 female calves that will reach breeding age within a few years. Most of these females have been waiting since years.

The European breeding programme for African elephants is at the point of collapse. However, this is not a new situation, but has been known for many years. The reason is by no means a lack of fertile African elephants, nor insurmountable problems to breed these animals. If attempts to establish a self-sustaining population fail, it would be only due to a lack of reasonable, responsible decisions to improve captive breeding across Europe. The current EEP suggestions regarding Erfurt Zoo obviously support this statement. This concerns not only  Erfurt Zoo, but all facilities keeping  African elephants: The genetic variability seems to be a “dead end”, whilst the turn-off towards a coordinated breeding management is almost passed. The EEP’s attitude that the only way out is artificial insemination and import leads down a one way street, It is hard to understand why the zoo community involved  does not unite their efforts to change this, as it is still possible  to do so.

September 2014

Maine, USA: Founder of „Hope Elephants“ killed by female elephant

Dr. James Laurita († 56 y.), veterinarian, elephant keeper and co-founder of the elephant sanctuary “Hope Elephants” died on 9 September 2014 due to serious injuries caused by 45 y.o. Asian elephant female “Rosie”.

Between 1977 and 1983, Laurita toured with Carson  Barnes Circus where he, among other things, worked as an elephant handler. Afterwards, he  got a veterinary degree and opened his own practice in Maine. In 2011, Dr. Laurita co-founded  the organisation “Hope Elephants” along with his brother, in order to provide a retirement facility and best medical treatment for “Rosie” – an arthritic female Asian circus elephant Dr. Laurita knew from  his time with the Carson & Barnes Circus.  Animal rights groups  opposed the project, arguing that the climate  in Maine wasn`t suitable for elephants, that keeping only a single female would be inappropriate and that  “Rosie” would be much better off in one of the well-established U.S. sanctuaries, either Hohenwald, TN, or PAWS, CA. However, Dr. Laurita went on with his plans and proceeded to build an elephant barn and outdoor enclosure of aprox. 4,000 sqm. In October 2012, he would receive “Rosie”, accompanied by  another female, 42 y.o. “Opal”, who both came from the “Endangered Ark Foundation” in Hugo, Oklahoma, which is closely affiliated with the Carson &  Barnes Circus and houses elephants retired from the circus. . Pictures of the elephants and enclosure of “Hope Elephants” can be viewed here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/chelseamarshall/meet-the-two-elephants-who-are-changing-the-future-of-elepha#4jdpj0j

Dr. Laurita and his family cared for both elephants in free contact,  the management system used in all circuses, without taking the risks of unlimited contact between humans and elephants into account. On 9 September 2014, Dr. Laurita was found dead within the elephant enclosure by his wife. An authopsy concluded that massive violent compression of the chest caused multiple fractures and asphyxiation.  Tom Laurita stated that his brother probably  had fallen due to unknown reasons and  that “Rosie” might have accidently injured him by attempting  to help him to get up with  her trunk and feet

Such absurd explanations  (“the animal just wanted to help”, “the animal wanted to play”) are commonly used after deadly attacks of elephants and carnivores, especially in circuses, but are completely unfounded.  Many aggressive incidents with captive elephants are documented by eyewhitnesses or video footage, and in almost all of those cases, there is no doubt that the elephant acted intentionally. Elephants are capable of metering their strength and weight excellently when dealing with neonates or other beings, including  humans.

Due to the unpredictable risks in free contact management, all zoos accredited by the North American Zoo organization AZA have to use “protected contact” management from September 2014 on. This management system is very effective avoiding serious accidents with elephants, but it is likely that those zoos in the USA and Canada that still prefer circus-style, dominance-based  free contact training will try to seek exception provision.

After Dr. Laurita´s death,  “Rosie” and “Opal” will return to the facilities of the “Endangered Ark Foundation”. Both were only loaned to “Hope Elephants” while ownership remained  with the Carson & Barnes Circus/ Endangered Ark Foundation,   which excludes their transfer to a zoo with modern elephant facilities or  preferably one of the U.S. sanctuaries.

January 2014-01-28

Ivory must become worthless

Despite the human-elephant conflict (HEC), elephant poaching for the international demand for ivory becomes an increasing threat for free-ranging African elephants. In order to inform about this problem, Ute Schmidt, a German sound engineer, created a short animation film which allows adults and children to inform theirselves about the causal relations. It has been translated into several languages.


Elephant Trainer Joy Gärtner:

Deadly danger by circus elephants at the Circus Festival in Monte Carlo

The elephants of the Gärtner family during a street parade in France, Dec. 2013. Source: One Voice

In January 2014, elephant trainer Joy Gärtner will perform with his elephants at the 38th International Circus Festival in Monte Carlo. While his presentation in the circus ring will be celebrated, hardly anyone will know that the elephant history of the Gärtner family is a dark story about death and animal cruelty. Elephants are neither gentle giants nor funny clowns, but rather wild animals that can be so dangerous that they shouldn`t be performing in a circus. The list of humans that have been killed or injured in zoos and circuses by elephants around the world is endless; the latest deaths occurred in France in August 2013 (84y.o. man killed by an escaped circus elephant) and in Dickerson Park Zoo/ Springfield, USA in October 2013 (elephant manager attacked and killed by a female elephant). 

The Gärtner family is infamous for acquiring dangerous elephants. Both the father and the mother of Joy Gärtner paid for this with their lives: In 1982 his mother, Chiara Gärtner, was killed by an elephant and in 1996 his father, Josef Gärtner. Female elephant “Sabi”, whose attack caused Josef Gärtner's death, was later euthanized – the typical fate of a “killer elephant” that has become unmanageable and therefore useless for circus performances.

The elephant group which Joy Gärtner presents today includes elephants that are dangerous. Three of them, „Pira, „Belinda“ and „Diana“ are originally from the notorious German circus Giovanni Althoff, and before Joy Gärtner acquired them in 2005, two of the elephants had not been performing for years because their trainer Giovanni Althoff had lost control over them. Another female elephant, “Bebe”, purchased by Joy Gärtner from the Spanish Circus Americano (the Faggioni family) had not been performing in the ring since 2006 – which was the reason why the Circus Americano had tried to get rid of her for years.

Joy Gärtner, however, is totally ignorant of the danger his elephants present, even though he should know better. In summer 2012 while Joy Gärtner was touring with Irish Circus Courtney Bros., this ignorance almost had catastrophic consequences not just once, but twice. The public escape of elephant “Bebe” on March 27th in Cork attracted international press coverage, and just four days later a person was badly injured and almost died when he got between two fighting elephants. In December 2012, the next dramatic incident happened: while the Gärtner family stayed for performances in Riga (Latvia), Joy Gärtner´s young son was injured by an elephant. The police investigated the incident but didn`t press charges with the absurd reasoning that this was a private matter of the Gärtner family.

The public authorities of all countries involved are indifferently watching all this, and the disastrous past and acute danger for circus people and the public will be concealed in Monte Carlo as well. However, it is just a matter of time until the next person is injured. The audience remains oblivious to the potential danger because elephant performances are still presented as harmless amusement for human and animals alike, and the jury in Monte Carlo is still praising elephant acts against all better knowledge. It is long overdue that politicians and authorities act accordingly and prohibit elephants in circuses!


November 2013

Toronto elephants have finally arrived at the PAWS Sanctuary in California

On October 20, the remaining three female African elephants from Toronto Zoo, Canada, arrived at the PAWS Sanctuary near San Andreas (California) after a 70-hour-long journey across the continent. “Thika” (33 y.), “Toka” (43 y.) and “Iringa” (44 y.) made the trip without problems and went outside for the first time less than 24 hours after their arrival. Pictures of the elephants in their new home can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/pawsweb.org.

The move was conducted by a team of elephant experts under the leadership of Magaret Whittaker from Active Environments, who also consults with many zoos. Beside Scott Blais (co-founder of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee), elephant manager Jeff Kinzley and veterinarian Andrea Goodnight (both from Oakland Zoo), two zoo directors were part of the team: veterinarian Joel Parrot, CEO and President of Oakland Zoo, and Pat Lampi, former elephant keeper and CEO of the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage. Their participation is an impressive demonstration of support from an unexpected side, considering the open hostility against PAWS from the North American Zoo Association AZA, the Canadian Zoo Association CAZA and the Toronto Zoo itself during the last two years. Elephant keepers and zoo management of the Toronto Zoo alike opposed the decision of the Toronto City Council to move the elephants to PAWS, managed to delay the transfer by more than a year and tried to stop it right until the day the elephants finally left with the goal of either keeping the elephants in Toronto or to move them to the National Elephant Center in Florida, which is run by AZA zoos. The main arguments against PAWS were an alleged tuberculosis danger and the long travel time to California, which the Toronto staff and their supporters considered to be animal cruelty. However, travel times between 2 and 3 days during overland transports are not unusual, neither in North America nor in Europe. While such transfers are undoubtedly exhausting for elephants, they usually run smoothly, even when the elephants are older. For example, the female African elephant “Peaches” was already 51 and one of the oldest African elephants in North America when she and her herd mates “Wankie” and “Tatima” (both 34 y.o. at that time) were moved across the continent from San Diego to Chicago in 2003. All three made the transfer – like the Toronto elephants now – without problems (in contrary, the adjustment from life in sunny California to the long, cold winters in Chicago didn`t go so well). African elephant bull “Kibo”, who travelled in September 2013 from Boras in Sweden to Valencia in Spain and had to spend almost 60 hours within his crate, arrived in Spain in good condition too, even though the 36-year old elephant is not much younger than “Toka” and “Iringa”.

If the opinion of the Toronto elephant keepers that elephant´s transfers by road with long travel times are animal cruelty becomes accepted, severe consequences for North American Zoos and the elephant breeding programs would follow – however, it is possible that long transfers only will be considered as unacceptable and welfare relevant if the destination is a sanctuary…

The TV station CBC produced an interesting documentary about the move which is very worth seeing and can be watched here: http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/episodes/2013-2014/elephants-on-board-a-journey-to-remember. The heated discussion about the fate of Canadian elephants (not just from Toronto) is addressed in an earlier documentary from 2012, that can still be watched here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzRJ5Y_LxcQ.



October 2013

Dickerson Park Zoo, Springfield, MO / USA:                                              Elephant kills experienced keeper

On October 11, 2013,  a 41-year old Asian elephant female named “Patience” killed 62-year old elephant keeper and manager John Bradford. The attack happened inside the barn when “Patience” hesitated to enter the chute that connects the stalls with the outdoor enclosure. Bradford, who worked at the zoo since 25 years as elephant manager, leaned himself inside the chute and reached for her with a bullhook when she lunged forwards, knocked him down and crushed him. While press statements call the tool Bradford used “guide”, there is no doubt that “guide” is used as synonym as “bullhook”. Bradford died instantly.

“Patience” and the second female elephant at the zoo, “Moola”, have a history of aggression against their keepers. Therefore, both were officially managed in protected contact. However, protected contact can only guarantee the safety of the staff when the keepers actually stick to the rule of never approaching an elephant without a protective barrier between humans and animals. Regarding the elephant management in Springfield, the reaccreditation report of the North American Zoo organization AZA already raised concerns about the safety procedures in 2012 when inspectors found that staff occasionally entered the elephant`s space without barriers “or restraints” in place. This phrasing and the obvious use of bullhooks in Dickerson Park Zoo highlight the current alarming trend in North American zoos to weaken the definition of “protected contact” and include management regimes that allow keepers to interact freely with elephants without a protective fence as long as the elephants are “restrained” (= chained by at least one front and one hind leg). Within such a system, the use of bullhooks and dominance-based training continues to be essential. Under such conditions, increased safety compared to traditional free contact is nothing but an illusion:  The elephant continues to be dominated, repressed and punished, while it still has the opportunity to directly attack the keepers. However, restraining the legs by chains does not limit the movement of the head and trunk.  

All parties involved now are feigning complete ignorance regarding the underlying cause of “Patience´s” well-known aggressive behaviour, and the methods of elephant husbandry at Dickerson Park Zoo; but in fact this is nothing but hypocrisy. The history of elephant management in Springfield proves that those cruel training methods needed in free contact to keep elephants under control were - of course - used in Dickerson Park Zoo, too. On August 23, 1998, female elephant “Chai” who had just arrived at Springfield from Woodland Park Zoo for breeding purposes attacked keepers and was badly beaten as punishment. This incident later became public and was found to be abusive by the authorities. The zoo had to pay a fine to settle the charges. At that time, John Bradford was already the responsible elephant manager at Dickerson Park Zoo. It is obvious that during their “history of aggression”, “Moola” and “Patience” were punished the same way.



September 2013

Circus elephant kills 84 y.o. in France

German circus elephants of “Monte Carlo” circus, owner: Hardy Weisheit, kept behind a ridiculous hot wire

The escape of African circus elephant female “Tanya” (“Samba”, est. 30 y.o.), who belongs to the French institution „Cirque d‘Europe“, caused a tragedy last weekend.
In Lizy-sur-Ourq near Paris, the female escaped from her paddock which was secured by a hotwire fence by throwing a tarpaulin on it. The incident happened in the afternoon of Saturday, September 8th, 2013. Cow elephant “Tanya” who was said to be already upset during her performance earlier that day, broke through the barriers around the circus and, later met a group of men playing the boules game. She knocked down a 84 y.o. man and stepped on him, which injured the victim so seriously that it died Sunday night in a hospital. The victim´s brother is now pressing charges against „Cirque d‘Europe“. The future of “Tanya” who apparently has been aggressive towards people before, is uncertain. Preferably the female should be housed in a zoo, where she can be managed safely under protected contact.
This incident proves again that it is irresponsible to keep elephants behind hot wires, because hot wire fences can`t prevent outbreaks. A disaster like this can happen at any time and in any other country as well, e.g. in Germany, as most of the German circuses use electric fencing to secure their elephant paddocks. With about 40 circus elephants constantly travelling with German circuses, the potential for further elephant-related accidents is enormous, even more so since several of them are known to have been aggressive towards people.



August 2013

Series of accidents with German circus elephants in Sweden

Elephant females “Daela” (l.) and “Dunja” during a stay in Calberlah, Germany, in 2011

Since spring 2013, at least 4 incidents with female elephants “Dunja” (est. 43 years) and “Daela” (est. 30 years), trained and presented by Anton Frank, happened in the Swedish circus Maximum. Originally, both elephants were owned by German elephant trainer and circus owner Jonny Frank-May, and until his death in March 2012, they usually travelled in Germany with the Circus May. The last years, both elephants were almost always kept in chains and only very rarely had access to an outdoor paddock.
Now in Sweden, they seem to spend more time outside and unchained. However, the circus is apparently unable to guarantee the safety of its visitors, with grave consequences (http://www.aftonbladet.se/nyheter/article17348534.ab):
Problems started in spring 2013 in Gärdet (near Stockholm), when one of the elephants grabbed a jacket from a teenager and ate it. In May, the hat and shoes of another visitor were destroyed. It is unkown which elephant caused either incident. However, it was Asian female “Dunja” who, also in May 2013, grabbed a 10-year-old child by the legs and dragged her into the enclosure. The most recent attack was caused by African elephant “Daela” in August 2013 in Gubbängen (Stockholm) when she grabbed a six-year-old girl from her father`s arms. Thankfully, he could recover his child without mayor injuries. A similar incident apparently happened in May 2010 in Celle, Germany, while „Dunja“ und „Daela“ were still travelling with circus May.
Anton Frank told the Swedish press that the parents were ultimately responsible for their children and that the elephants weren`t dangerous, just curious.  What he didn`t mention is that the way elephants are managed and presented in circuses deliberately suggests that elephants are harmless, funny clowns that can be approached without concerns. Given the size and strength of an elephant, even their “curiousity” without aggressive intent can lead to very severe injuries. Circus Maximum is apparently neither able nor willing to constantly monitor and supervise “Dunja” und “Daela” to keep them from harming people – the Swedish authorities should act and confiscate both animals before a person is seriously injured or killed.



May 2013

Deadly elephant attacks in Thai tourist camps

In May 2013, two horrible incidents with tamed elephants occurred in elephant camps in Thailand.

On May 13th, 19 year old female elephant “Bua Ngern” killed her mahout while he was about to unchain her. The attack occurred in Mahawang Elephant Camp in Sai York district. According to the local police, the reason why the elephant became aggressive is the heat wave (up to 40°C).

Just two weeks later, the next accident happened in Lae Paniad Elephant Kraal in Ayutthaya. 27-year-old tusker “Plai Big” attacked a couple of Thai tourists while they approached him with food. The bull, who was chained at the time of the attack, grabbed the woman with his trunk and trampled her. Her husband, who wanted to help his wife, was gored with one of the tusks and thrown into the air. The woman later died in hospital. Explanation of the camp owner: The bull was frightened when the woman approached him with food and afraid of getting hurt. To free the elephant from the spirit of his victim, the end of his tusks were sawn off (!). According to his owner, the elephant would not work with tourists again. But to keep the bull away from the tourists won`t eliminate the deadly danger for the mahouts and barely minimizes the risk for guests, since enclosures that can safely contain adult bull elephants don`t exist in Ayutthaya.

The explanations of the owners in both cases are ridiculous. Unfortunately, this  total lack of understanding means that not even the much-visited camps like Ayutthaya will take the necessary  measures to protect mahouts and tourists alike from these “mankillers” – the next tragedy is just a matter of time. In both cases in May 2013, the victims were Thai, but visiting an elephant camp is an incalculable, deadly risk for the numerous foreign tourists too. No one warns them – and the knowledge that dangerous elephants are routinely badly mistreated and kept in chains to try and keep them under control is kept a secret, too.



April 2013

Houston zoo: Circus-like performances and a correlation of distress and EEHV

Houston zoo/Texas entertains by marketing performances of its elephants. According to “YourHoustonNews.com”, two and a half year old “Tupelo” received instuctions publicly, while her mother “Tess” had to do a few circus-like handstands in the presence of several reporters. To round out this entertainment programme, the 2nd breeding female, “Methai”, created some paintings by using a paintbrush.http://www.yourhoustonnews.com/bellaire/news/houston-zoo-elephants-show-off-their-talent/article_80260c85-c80a-5f24-9a43-529afdac4738.html

Those „tricks“ are nothing but animal cruelty and may cause painful and incurable joint diseases in elephants. There is no justification for scientificly-led zoos to hold on to these archaic exercises and associated training methods.

In addition, Houston zoo is well-known in the “elephant scene” for the loss of at least 6 of its 14 zoo-born calves by Elephant endotheliotropic herpesviruses (EEHV). “Singgha”, “Kimba” and “Mac” died aged 7, 13 and 2 years, caused by EEHV. “Pearl”, “Kiba” and “Bopper” died for the same reason aged 3, 11 and 4 years, each one within a few months after being transferred to another zoo. Several more calves died due to unidentified causes; EEVH is a possible cause. Only two calves are alive today and since both are born in 2010, they have just now reached the critical age. Once an individual gets infected with one of the many stains of EEVH, the infection will stay present for life. However, this does not necessarily have to affect the animal, as long as it stays on a latent level. But if an infection becomes active, it manifests very quickly - an outbreak might end up lethally within days or even hours. Most commonly affected animals are young Asian elephants below the age of adolescence. Medical treatment, e.g. use of famciclovir, is only partially effective. An effective vaccination to prevent individuals from infection is still not available.

Thus, research on certain triggers and how to prevent an active outbreak would be advisable. In case of many herpes viruses, permanent distress is identified as a main trigger. To dominate  wild animals like elephants in order to establish the keeper as human super-alpha is only possible by violence and suppressing of natural herd behaviour. Elephant training for show purposes is not based on natural behaviour neither (see http://www.european-elephant-group.com/files/PDF/14_athleten_und_dresseure_ueberforderung_im_circus_dr.kurt.pdf). 

In zoos that insist on those anachronistic performances, brutal training for zoo-born calves usually start during their first months of life and likely leads to permanent distress – which could trigger a fatal virus attack of an infected animal.

Unfortunately, this is totally ignored by the affected zoos. As long as the elephant management in those institutions proceeds unmodified, an important tool to avoid fatal EEVH outbreaks is ignored – keeping elephant calves as stress-free as possible. It is not surprising that young elephants in zoos which submit their elephant calves to cruel training methods for circus shows like Houston Zooo (USA) and Whipsnade Zoo  (UK) have a higher-than-average rate of offspring succumbing to EEHV.



Two African females die after elephant attacks

In the last few weeks, two African elephants, both breeding females, died in European Zoos due to elephant attacks. “Swana” (27 y.) at Howletts Wildlife Park (England), a mother of four, passed away on April 2
nd, 2013, while “Gustl” (23 y.) at Cabarceno (Spain) died even a few weeks earlier. Both succumbed to injuries caused by other female elephants. These incidents are just the newest examples of escalating conflicts between unrelated females in zoos. Conflicts like this occur everywhere in zoos worldwide and seem to be the rule rather than an exception in normal zoo herds.

However, serious aggressions are unknown between related females within a natural family unit, from zoos as well as from the wild. The researchers of the Amboseli elephant study concluded: “That study [Lee 1987] was unable to describe linear hierarchies within families since overt or escalated dominance-subdominance interactions were too infrequent in 1,750 contact hours of observation…This finding,…, suggested a norm of non-aggressive or subtle mode of interaction…” (in: Moss, C., Croze, H. & Lee, P. (editors, 2011): The Amboseli Elephants: A long-term Perspective on a long-lived Mammal).     Within matrilinear family groups in the wild, an individual´s status is determined by its age and size, and the resulting hierarchy is stable.

The European Elephant Group believes that aggressive conflicts within zoo herds are not normal herd behaviour or dominance behaviour; they rather occur when an elephant´s social needs are not met in captivity. Incidents like these could be avoided if breeding groups were splitted up into family units in time, with a herd management aspiring to keep only a single maternal family unit per institution. This would have the additional benefit that no more zoo-born females would have to be seperated from their mothers in order to provide additional zoos with fertile females or to avoid inbreeding.



February 2013

Know your destination - know what you´ll be seing...

Sri Lanka is one of the most beautiful places on earth. But whatever the attraction, there is one thing a tourist will never miss - the image of the Asian elephant... Read more about responsible elephant tourism!



Now available in English:

Support for "Can", the Forest elephant of Abidjan zoo

The Zoo in Abidjan / Ivory Coast, is globally the first and only zoo to have kept a breeding group of Forest Elephants (Loxodonta cyclotis). In 1988 the first ever birth in captivity occurred with the female “Kony”.

Economic crises and political instability in Ivory Coast since the 1990ies also had devastating effects on the once renowned zoo. In 2008 Julia Riedel first drew our attention to the sad situation at the zoo and particularly of “Can”... read more



January 2013

Valencia zoo: Death of African bull elephant „Pambo“

Aged nearly 21, male African bush elephant “Pambo” died 2013-01-23 at Valencia zoo, Spain. According to the zoo´s internet homepage, the animal would show normal behaviour the evening before, including
normal food intake. The next morning, on Jan. 23rd, 7 a.m. the male would lay down in his stall, not responding to his keepers, but showing signs of colic. Though “Pambo” received medical treatment, he passed away at aprox. 2 p.m. the same day.
“Pambo” had arrived only 2 months before his death to breed with Valencia zoo´s 6 young females. Previously he had been living at Cabarceno zoo, Spain, siring 2 calves there. Before this, “Pambo” had
been living at Vienna Zooo where he sired his 1st offspring in 2001 but would not get access to the breeding females anymore for the next 8 years.
The loss of this breeding male means another shock to the African elephant EEP management programme, which is specifically marked not only by too many individuals kept without adequate breeding mates, but a general lack in male breeders as well. After death of “Pambo”, only 9 more proven breeding bulls remain in Europe´s zoos and safari parks, with 2 of them not even taking part in the EEP programme. Furthermore, 4 out of the remaining 7 males are currently kept without fertile females
or with females being close-kin. On the other hand, 23 fertile females living in 9 institutions – which all take part in the EEP programme - are in desperate need of an adequate breeding male. This dramatic situation had been a subject of our organization´s publication in Elefanten-Magazin No 18 (in German).
To save Europe´s population of African bush elephants from a breakdown, males who didn´t sire offspring yet have been becoming immensely important. Unfortunately 7 out of those 8 males aged over 20 years are presently kept without fertile females, with 4 of them not even taking part in the EEP management programme. Thus, younger males aged between 10 and 20 years are about to be introduced as a breeding bull-to-be, missing any opportunity to socialize and learn normal male-
male social behaviour in bachelor groups, as they would in the wild.
Due to this situation, it is absolutely incomprehensible and, from the European Elephant Group´s point of view, counter-productive  if 14 y.o. zoo-born male “Tutume” (born at Berlin Tierpark, currently loan to Osnabrück zoo) would be handed over to Canada and the North American SSP, as suggested by certain EEP programme authorities. Concerning the European population of bush elephants, another potentially important breeding bull would go astray without a trace.



Ramnifications after the accident  at Taronga Zoo, Sydney

On January 15th, the Taronga Conservation Society Australia, which runs the Taronga Zoo in Sydney and the Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, published its conclusions after an internal investigation regarding the attack of 2-year-old bull calf “Pathi Harn” that almost killed a keeper in October last year. According to the review, the accident was the result of an unexpected spike in his testosterone levels; neither the elephant keepers, the safety protocols nor the facility design were at fault. Given the blatant denial of responsibility, it is positively surprising that the Taronga Conservation Society still plans to change the management system for all elephants in both zoos to “protected contact” by mid-2013, not just for the young males affected by rising testosterone levels. After the accident, Elefanten-Schutz-Europa sent a letter to the zoo director, the responsible minister and the WorkCover Authority NSW. According to the answer from WorkCover Authority NSW, which you can read here, the zoo thinks it is necessary to specifically prepare their elephants in “free contact” before switching over to “protected contact”.

Due to the fact that Taronga Zoo´s new elephant faciliies are too small for a breeding group, the management changes will cause significant problems. According to the sentence of the Administrative Appeal Tribunal from February 6th, 2006 (http://www.hsi.org.au/editor/assets/legal/IFAW_v_Minister_decision_6_February_2006.pdf), Taronga Zoo was only granted permission to import the 5 elephants from Thailand on condition to regularly walk the elephants outside the enclosure. In addition, the zoo had to ensure that bull elephant “Gung” would have an opportunity to regularly socialize with the females even after his move into the bull facility, which is located several hundred meters away from the main elephant exhibit. After the change to “protected contact”, physical contact between the bull and the females will be impossible, unless a crate is used regularly. Therefore, the zoo has now announced to move all bull elephants from Sydney - „Gung“ (born 2000), „Luk Chai“ (born 2009) and „Pathi Harn“ (born 2010) to the Western Plains Zoo/Dubbo. Elefanten-Schutz Europa believes that due to the lack of space at Taronga, the whole breeding group of Asian elephants should be transferred to the spacious park at Dubbo, while the facilities at Taronga zoo might be acceptable for a small group of non-breeding females or young bulls.



Group birth at Melbourne Zoo, Australia

In the early morning on January 17, 2013, 13-year old female “Num-Oi” gave birth to her first offspring. The large bull calf (131 kg) was born after 5 long, difficult nights of labor without human help in the outdoor enclosure. This is noteworthy since this was the first group birth at Melbourne Zoo. During the birth, “Num-Oi” was in accompanied by female “Kulab” and her male calf “Ongard”. This was the 3rd elephant birth in Melbourne since 2010; father of all calves is 38-year old bull elephant “Bong Su”. All calves are the result of artificial insemination because “Bong Su” is not mating with the females.

A video of the birth and the first moments that is well worth seeing after can be found here: http://www.news.com.au/travel/news/melbourne-zoos-num-oi-gives-birth-to-baby-elephant/story-e6frfq80-1226555586277?from=public_rss

“Num-Oi” demonstrates in an impressive way that an elephant in labor needs space to move freely. It is likely that the birth wouldn`t have ended up successfully if the mother had been chained or confined in a small stall (for further information: “Chaining, Free Movement or Group Birth” – in German) . However, it is incomprehensible why the elephant keepers feel the need to enter the enclosure directly after the birth, trying to touch mother and calf. It doesn`t seem that “Num-Oi”, who shows competent mothering skills from the very first moment and is not at all aggressive towards her calf, finds this human attention helpful.


December 2012

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.



Elephants in North American Zoos

On November 9th, the Canadian television channel CBC Television broadcasted the very interesting  documentary "THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM" about the controversy between Animal Welfare Organizations and Zoos regarding elephants in Canadian zoos. The documentary can be watched in four parts under http://www.youtube.com/user/yukonquestcruelty?feature=watch It features a discussion about the fate of the elephants in Anchorage (Alaska/USA), Toronto (Canada) and Edmonton (Canada) in detail, including a presentation of the arguments on both sides and footage from the PAWS Sanctuary in California.




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.




November 2012

Chester zoo: A family of four Generations!

On November 25, at 1.30 a.m., young female Asian elephant “Sundara” (8yrs) gave birth to her 1st offspring at Chester zoo, UK. The uncomplicated birth occurred in the presence of the whole elephant herd. “Sundara´s” calf of still unknown sex was sired by 18yrs “Upali”, a male who has recently been transferred to Dublin zoo, IRL.

This birth should be noted as a significant event: As it occurred, Chester zoo claimed to become the 1st zoo in the western world keeping an elephant family of four generations: Matriarch “Thi Ha Way” (31yrs.) with her daughters “Sithami” and “Jamila”, aged 15 and 1, “”Sithami´s” offspring “Sundara” (8yrs.) and “Nayan”, aged 2 – and now including “Sundara´s” offspring as well. Additional members of Chester´s herd of nine are females “Maya” and “Jangolie”, both aged 44, and 11 year old bull elephant “Aung Bo”, who was born at Emmen zoo, NL and is the new breeding bull-to-be at Chester zoo.

Chester zoo´s elephant management programme, which enabled this development, should be a leading example for other, especially German zoos,    which unscrupulously  tear young zoo-born females apart from their mothers and families. This goes against the advice of  the EAZA Taxon Advisory Group and – of course – against striking evidence of up to date research in the wild.


Congratulations, Chester zoo!



November 2012

End of the controversy  about the future of the Toronto Zoo elephants?

The Toronto Zoo (Canada) has been  keeping African elephants since its foundation in 1974. Of the seven young elephants that arrived in 1974, two are still alive: “Iringa”, 43 years, and “Toka”, 42 years. The herd is completed by 32-year old “Thika” who was born in Toronto. The breeding bull died in 1989 and four females including “Thika`s” mother between 2006 and 2009. After the four deaths in just 3 years the Toronto zoo was heavily criticized for its elephant program. While the outdoor enclosure in Toronto is rather large, the barn is much too small considering the amount of time the elephants have to spend indoors in the long winters.

In 2011 the Zoo, which is owned by the City of Toronto, decided to end the elephant program. Because the search for a new home took too long, local politicians became involved, and in October 2011 the City Council decided to send the three females to the Californian sanctuary “Ark 2000”, run by Pat Derby and Ed Stewart from the “Performing Animal Welfare Society” (PAWS) . At the sanctuary, the elephants can enjoy a mild climate and huge outdoor habitats that surpass all standards set by the American zoo association AZA.  However, the controversy over the elephants only became more heated after the decision of the City Council. The elephant keepers and the zoo management, supported by the AZA, heavily criticized the decision. They tried to stop the transfer to the independent sanctuary in favor of an AZA-accredited facility through lobbying in the media and a hostile internet campaign, and delayed the move until today. The main argument of the zoo supporters are fears that at the PAWS sanctuary, the Toronto elephants would be in danger of becoming infected with tuberculosis since several Asian elephants originating from Ringling Circus and now living at PAWS are under suspicion of being infected with the disease. That these elephants are kept in separate facilities without any contact to the healthy, tuberculosis-free herd of African elephants is ignored by the Toronto zoo.  Interestingly, AZA zoos are much more relaxed when elephants in AZA zoos are affected by the disease. In 2011, both the St. Louis zoo (female elephant “Donna”) and the Albuquerque Zoo (female elephant “Alice”) diagnosed active tuberculosis within their breeding herd of Asian elephants. Both elephants remained with the group without any quarantine measures, breeding continued and both elephants stayed on exhibit, suggesting that there is no danger of zoo visitors  catching the bacterium through the air. Why should this be different at the PAWS sanctuary? Another argument from those against Sanctuaries is that the sanctuaries don`t breed and therefore don`t contribute to conservation. Regarding the Toronto elephants, this reveals the AZA supporters as hypocrites: The reason that the Toronto elephant herd is a non-breeding group today is due to utter failure of the zoo and the AZA. It was the Toronto Zoo that never replaced the breeding bull after his early death and therefore wasted the breeding potential of the elephant group.

The City Council of Toronto has now shown that it is immune to the prejudiced reasoning of the zoo industry. On November 27 , the City Council confirmed its original decision from October 2011 with overwhelming majority (32:8) and ordered the zoo to transfer the three elephants to PAWS by the end of the year. The zoo director has announced that the zoo will accept the decision.