More often than not, a life in captivity is associated with longevity. Not so for elephants.
A new study has found that wild elephants outlive their captive counterparts — dramatically so.
Researchers found that the life span for wild African elephants in Kenya's Amboseli National Park is about 56 years. However for elephants kept in European zoos it was just 17 years.
As for the more endangered Asian elephants, wild elephants In Myanmar (formerly Burma) live about 42 years compared with Asian elephants in European zoos who live only 20 years.
According to the researcher, Georgia Mason of the University of Guelph in Canada, there are about 1,200 elephants in zoos. Half live in European zoos. The research involved primarily female elephants because they make up 80 percent of the zoo population.
Asked why captive elephants don't live as long, she noted that zoos usually lack large grazing areas and the elephants are often either alone or with only one or two other elephants that are unrelated. This marks a significant difference compared with elephant lifestyles in the wild where they roam large grassy areas and live in groups of 8-12 relatives.
In addition to the shorter lifespan in captivity, zoo elephants also have a 2-3 times higher infant mortality rate. Mason isn't sure why.
I have to admit that although I love going to zoos to see the monkeys and apes, who often have good enough habitats that I don't leave with a sick taste in my mouth, I have a totally different experience viewing some other animals. The big cats, bears and elephants are among the worst kept critters in zoos in my observation. Their habitats never seem to be adequate for maintaining their mental health, let alone their physical health. I think it's just their greater need to roam that is responsible. Perhaps primates can much more easily adapt to a more sedentary life.