FAQs Elephants in Zoos

FAQs Elephants in Zoos

Below you will find our answers to some of the many questions that often are raised about the well being of elephants in zoos.

The foundation for our expertise is decades of research and observations on the behavior of elephants under a broad range of situations in the wild - together with significant experience with elephants in captivity. Some of our answers are based on empirical evidence, while others are personal reflections and opinions, emerging from our knowledge and ethical standpoint combined. Against the background of a rapidly changing scientific milieu, one’s perspective on animals and their welfare ultimately comes down to one’s own particular moral stand, one’s values, experiences and beliefs.

We have tried to be short on a very difficult and sensitive subject. In doing so we will have undoubtedly left out important justifications for our conclusions – but you can find numerous scientific papers and online sources, if you want to know more. We recommend the book "The Elephant In the Room: The Science and Well-being of Elephants in Captivity" and our chapter Poole, J & Granli, P. 2008. Mind and Movement: Meeting the Interests of Elephants. (2.19 MB), as a good place to start.

We cannot know for certain what an elephant, captive or wild, is thinking about her or his situation – just as we cannot know, for certain, what goes on in the minds of other people. But we know quite a bit about elephants. Through decades of experience and observing patterns of behavior, we have learnt to read the body language and predicting the behavior of elephants. Hence, we do believe that the FAQ below will give you a pretty good insight in what elephants in circuses may be experiencing.

You are welcome to send us your own question(s), and even suggest an answer. We will include what we consider as good and relevant questions and answers of general interest in future updates of this FAQ about elephants in zoos!