Study finds elephants live far longer in the wild than in zoos

December 11, 2008

(ChattahBox) -– Zoo elephants might be insulated from poachers and other hazards encountered in the wild, but it doesn’t mean they will live longer. On the contrary according to a study sure to stir debate about keeping these giant animals on display, elephants don’t live nearly as long in zoos as those in the wild. Researchers compared the life spans of elephants in European zoos with those living in Amboseli National Park in Kenya and others working on a timber enterprise in Myanmar. Animals in the wild or in natural working conditions had life spans twice that or more of their relatives in zoos.

The researchers found that the median life span for African elephants in European zoos was 16.9 years, compared with 56 years for elephants who died of natural causes in Kenya’s Amboseli park. Even those elephants killed by people in Africa lowered the median life span there to 35.9 years. Median means half died younger than that age and half lived longer.

For the more endangered Asian elephants, the median life span in European zoos was 18.9 years, compared with 41.7 years for those working in the Myanmar Timber Enterprise. Myanmar is the country formerly known as Burma. One of our more amazing results was that Asian elephants born in zoos have shorter life spans than do Asian elephants brought to the zoos from the wild.

Seems that food, exercise and companionship are as important for elephants as it is for people. Experts note that zoos usually lack having large grazing areas that elephants are used to in the wild, and that zoo animals often are alone or with one or two other unrelated animals, while in the wild they tend to live in related groups of eight to 12 animals.

There are about 1,200 elephants in zoos, half in Europe. Animal care activists have campaigned in recent years to discourage keeping elephants in zoos, largely because of the lack of space and small numbers of animals that can be kept in a group. There is some good news, though. The life spans of zoo elephants have improved in recent years, suggesting an improvement in their care and raising. Bottom line though is zoos are really a last resort and elephants are far better off being protected and allowed to live in natural conditions.


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