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.