Sometimes a baby elephant birth is bad news

A male Asian elephant calf born in Melbourne Zoo faces a lonely life in captivity. Photo by ABC News Australia. Last week I was saddened to read of another male elephant birth at Melbourne Zoo.

I have spent the last year reading with joy about the baby boom being experienced by the elephants at Amboseli as they replenish their numbers after the drought in 2009 took such a terrible toll.

And there are few things more delightful than the sight of a baby elephant.

The main reason the zoos undertake breeding programs is that baby elephants are an incredible drawcard.

But nothing is sadder to me than the sight of baby elephant in a zoo.

These calves will never experience what it is be a wild elephant roaming the plains with their family group.

They will be confined to unnatural spaces that are too small and in time they will develop stereotypic behaviours – swaying and rocking back and forth as they try to cope with their confinement.

And for male elephants – like the new baby at Melbourne – life is even more bleak.

When he is a few years old, he will be separated from the other elephants and forced to live a solitary life, occasionally visiting the females in the hopes of conceiving more offspring to attract people to the zoo.

He may even get carted around to other zoos to perform his services.

And sadly, the zoos dress this up as providing a conservation benefit to wild elephants.

While zoos do perform valuable conservation work for some species, in the case of elephants, they cannot even maintain the present global population of captive elephants without bringing in new animals.

There is zero conservation benefit in breeding elephants in zoos.

Which is one of the reasons why in 2005, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) joined forces with HSI and RSPCA Australia to fight the import of eight elephants from Thailand to Taronga and Melbourne Zoo – to become part of a so-called "conservation" breeding program.

While we lost our appeal and the elephants did come, we succeeded in getting a wealth of improvements to the conditions for the elephants, including better flooring, bedding and mud holes.

At least this new baby will have those small benefits in his miserable life.


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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Joseph Okori
Regional Director, Southern Africa and Program Director, Landscape Conservation
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
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James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
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Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
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Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
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Peter LaFontaine, Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
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Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
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