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First, American dogs are reported as getting hefty around the middle, and now it’s America’s captive zoo elephants that might have to work it off. A soon to be released, and fairly comprehensive, nationwide study of zoo elephant health has already unveiled some surprising results.

St. Lois Today reports, “Over three years, the [27 member] team examined more than 100,000 pages of medical records, 6,000 blood samples and 40,000 pounds of elephant dung. Subjects included 255 elephants in 70 zoos from Mexico to St. Louis to Miami.”

The researchers developed a one to five scale to rate each elephant on the roundness of their rumps and the bulge in their backbones. Only four percent were tagged as too skinny, nearly three quarters of the elephants scored a four or five — overweight. This condition can lead to a decline in female reproductivity, which is something zoos monitor closely.

Two-thirds of the animals studied behaved in repetitive manners, such as swaying or pacing, which are often considered signs of mental or physical stress.

“Housing elephants in captivity in zoos is a growing controversy,” said Nicole Meyer, director of the elephant protection campaign for In Defense of Animals, a California advocacy group.

The report focuses mainly on the physical health of elephants in zoos, and not as much on their mental health.

Like we’ve said before, even with more spacious enclosures and enrichment opportunities, zoos cannot replace or truly recreate life in the wild.

Elephants are incredibly social and intelligent animals, they understand teamwork, help others in distress, and can understand the human gesture of pointing, to cite a few examples.

The study may provide some suggestions to improve the lives of elephants in zoos, and it’s great if such measures are taken to improve conditions for captive elephants that cannot for some reason be returned to the wild. However, this report and these suggestions should not be used to provide Support for continuing captive elephant exhibits, no matter how well planned they may be.

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