28A Vane Attempt

"Don't Need a Weatherman To Tell Which Way the Wind Blows" 

A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.

Newfound Floods
February 21, 2008

A recent article detailing captive elephant breeding programs saddened us greatly. What was clarified was the un-tempered monetary influence of the world’s zoos in these efforts. Zoos and circuses make their money attracting families to see the bounty of the wild. Elephants, with their sophisticated social habits, acknowledged intelligence and aptitude for emotions, represent the exotic, benign image parents and children flock to see. Elephants, especially babies, make big money for zoos and are in constant demand. The unfortunate facts are that repeated efforts to breed elephants in captivity have met with dismal failure. In the wild, female elephants are in their prime reproductive years from age twenty to forty. During that time they typically give birth to five to seven calves without any trouble. In captivity females are forced to breed at increasingly young ages (often between 8-10 years). This is due to the negative biological effect of captivity which causes females to stop normal cycling and “flatline” before prime reproductive years. These young elephants are juveniles without enough mothering to know how to pass on life skills to their newborns.

In the year 2000 a document called the North American Region Studbook for African elephants listed 30 males and 206 African females. Only 8 living males and 15 living females have reproduced representing a success rate of a mere 7% of females in captivity. Since 1978 there have been only 38 African elephant births. Of those 22 are known to have died, four are unaccounted for and as of April 2003, only 12 remain alive. Zoos claim that artificial insemination (AI) will produce far better results in captive breeding programs. But after more than 50 attempts only 12 pregnancies resulted; of the 6 known AI births four were stillborn and in 2003 the first AI baby Amali, died at the Indianapolis Zoo.

While zoos, circuses and wild animal “parks” claim that captive breeding is necessary to counter the loss of herds and habitat in the wild - they fail to prove their claim. As a result zoos have escalated efforts to capture and import wild elephants to restock their elephant “collections.” The claim that such efforts are “conservation” of the species are disingenuous. The facts are these great creatures do not reproduce well in captivity. The cages and woefully small enclosures they are forced to live in have a severe negative effect on elephant biology. In June of 2003 a group of elephant experts (six doctorates and 200 years experience) led by Dr. Cynthia Moss, Director of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Nairobi, Kenya wrote to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking that they stop issuing permits to import wild elephants. Their point and the point we should all consider with animal conservation is that money spent on captive programs would be better spent on protecting animals and habitat in the wild. And from a philosophical perspective their request makes this eloquent argument:

“In the case of elephants, with their potentially long lives, their ability to communicate their emotional states with numerous vocalizations and displays, their loyalty and care of each other, their gentleness and dignity, we believe the time has come to
consider them as sentient beings and not as so much money on the hoof to be captured and sold and displayed for our own use. We should be beyond the exploitation of animals as complex and magnificent as elephants.”

To a large degree the maturity of a society is reflected in its treatment of those with the least power and influence. Today we rely upon the capture and exploitation of one group of sentient beings to entertain the bonds in our own family of beings. But if we are to look within ourselves and listen to our hearts, how comfortable is the laughter of our children at the expense of such noble creatures? Would we not build a better world if we can show our children the magnificence of the creation by protecting the wild rather than in captive microcosms crushing the spirit of the wild? Our scripture teaches the lessons of the ark - that Noah was commanded to preserve the animals by building an ark to survive the floods. Today we live in a vastly different world in which we, the people represent the flood waters and the shrinking wild the modern day ark. It behooves us all to pay close attention to efforts at conservation - to preserve the origins of the wild and not substitute it with reproductions of the wild. Our ark is our planet and we must learn to preserve it in the face of newfound floods.

1. Swaziland Statement signed by: Dr. Cynthia Moss AERP 35 years experience,Dr. Harvey Croze AERP 35 years, Dr. Joyce Poole AERP & SEVP 28 years, Dr. Keith Lindsay AERP & EDG 25 years, Dr. Phyllis Lee Cambridge U. & AERP 21 years, Norah Njiraini AERP 17 years, Soila Sayialel AERP 16 years, Dr. Hamisi Mutinda AERP 13 years, Catherine Sayialel AERP 11 years. www.elephanttrust.org