Zoos are one of the most unnatural places for animals. In captivity, the vast landscapes that would be their native homes are reduced to paintings on a wall, feeding time goes from a hunting mission to a sad routine, and animals that normally spend their time roaming hundreds of miles a day are reduced to a prison-like enclosure where lack of activity causes them to become obese and out of shape. Elephants are one of the many gentle creatures subject to a life of misery in zoos.
In the wild, they are part of huge, tight-knit herds, are extremely protective of their young, and stay fit from traveling up to 50 miles a day. Alternatively, in zoos, elephants are left in tiny spaces where they become listless and lonely, are kept in small groups of no more than four elephants at a time, and are so inactive that they can become massively overweight. In fact, at least 40 percent of captive elephants are considered obese.
In an attempt to mitigate obesity, zookeepers will sometimes put an exercise routine in place for the elephants. For example, recently, the Australian Taronga Western Plains Zoo released a video showing Thong Dee, a pregnant elephant, engaging in a special exercise routine. According to the zoo, the routine includes stacking tires, stepping on to a raised area, stretching, raising legs into the air, and lying down.
While the fact that these zookeepers are making an effort to keep this pregnant elephant active is somewhat commendable, at the end of the day, it is simply another glaring example of how unnatural of an environment zoos are, especially for elephants. In the wild, elephants would never have to worry about gaining weight like they do in zoos. Their constant roaming, healthy diet, and vibrant spirit keeps them happy and healthy. Elephant obesity is a problem that begins and ends in zoos.
Unfortunately, this reality is only apparent to those who see zoos for the destructive facilities that they are. Many of the publications who have written about this pregnant elephant’s exercise routine simply see it as an “adorable day-in-the-life video,” or a cute example of how similar elephants and humans are. The fact of the matter, however, is that an elephant in a zoo is nothing like a human that gets to roam free.
Elephants are trapped in zoos and do not choose to exercise like humans do, it’s not a decision, it’s a necessity to combat the negative effects of being in prison. And for humans to ignore the blatant absurdity of zoos and their pathetic attempts at making life “better” for elephants, is a great injustice to elephants and all those that languish beside them in zoos.
If you love elephants and truly want to show your appreciation for their existence, love them from afar, and boycott cruel zoos and circuses, which can only stay afloat with our monetary contributions. A life in a zoo is no life for an elephant.
Image source: Taronga Conservation Society Australia