Thursday, 12 November 2009

Now a real challenge for Peter Garrett

Having got that Queensland dam business out of the way, environment minister Peter Garrett can start preparing for a real challenge. India’s Central Zoo Authority (CZA) on Monday ordered that all elephants in the country’s zoos and circuses be set free in national parks, sanctuaries and tiger reserves as soon as possible. If Australia’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in worthy of its name, it will surely follow the lead and try again to stop elephants being held in captivity in this country.
To its credit the RSPCA did try to get overturned the disgraceful decision of the then environment minister Ian Campbell  in 1975 to allow Sydney’s Taronga Park zoo to import elephants from Thailand. Along with the Australian branch of the Humane Society International and the International Fund for Animal Welfare it asked the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to stop the importation but the tribunal merely imposed stricter conditions on the facilities in which the animals be kept.
Now India’s CZA has determined that even good zoos do not have enough room for elephants to move about freely.
The RSPCA agrees with that view. It says on its website that the problem with keeping elephants in zoos is that their needs cannot be adequately met in a captive zoo environment.
Consequently, the welfare of elephants kept in zoos is severely compromised. Potential causes for poor welfare in zoo elephants include restricted space and opportunity for exercise, unsuitable climate, extended periods of confinement, hard or wet flooring, inappropriate diet, small social groups, lack of stability in social groups, lack of opportunity to exhibit natural behaviours, and exposure to aversive stimuli in training and handling.
For example, zoos cannot provide adequate space for elephants. Elephants are, by nature, nomadic creatures that are constantly on the move. In the wild, an elephant will walk up to nine kilometres each day. It is nearly impossible to provide, even an adequate amount of space and exercise, in a captive environment. In addition, zoos cannot mimic the social structure that elephants need to thrive. Elephants in the wild can exist in herds numbering up to 58 animals. Female elephants particularly are intensely social animals, existing in small groups made up of mothers, calves, aunts and so forth.
These animals develop strong lifelong bonds with these family members. When elephants are held in captivity, moved and separated from their group, this cause unacceptable levels of distress and the breakdown of these family groups.
Having talked this good talk, it is now time for the RSPCA again to demand action and at least prevent any further elephant imports.
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