Thursday, December 11, 2008

Unusual Finding: Elephants live longer in wild than zoos

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.


Virginia Burnett said...

Amen. I think I would be happy to know that I could never see an Elephant (or a tiger) "in person" at the zoo if that meant that we humans had set aside a large enough safe habitat for them to flourish in naturally. It is nice that we've bothered to figure out what primates in captivity need. I would like to see more success in providing safe, sustainable and pleasurable habitat for these large animals, too.

The Empty Envelope said...

That's really interesting. We have two zoos nearby, the 'free' Como Zoo and the MN Zoo. I love the MN Zoo. It's mostly animals that are native to MN or are on the same latitude (ie Russia). Como has some more exotic animals but I always feel bad for them. They used to have this poor polar bear who just paced and paced...It's gotten a lot better.

Anonymous said...

I admit, I love zoos too! There is an elephant at our local zoo (San Antonio, TX) that is all alone and does not have adequete space. Activists are trying to get it moved - I hope they succeed.

Great post - enjoyable and informative, as always!

QuintessentiallyEnglish said...

Interesting finding, however its not surprising really. I have seen elephants in their natural habitats and in the zoo and you can guess which looked 'more alive'! My internet crashed a little while ago so I lost the link to your blog but recently found it again. I love reading your psychology posts and hope I dont lose the link again!

PS. Thankyou sooo much for supporting my blog on yours but I unfortunately no longer blog as University took up (and still does) too much of my time. I won;t be offended if you remove Quintessentially English's blog from your blog roll! :)

Alasdair said...

I, too, love to go to the zoo, but seeing bears - especially bears - in piddly habitats makes me almost irrationally angry. I guess polar bears make out OK at some zoos because they get a big lake and toys, but lots of bears are stuck with pathetic little parcels of concrete with a couple of logs. I'd rather see a couple of bears in a big habitat than a variety of bears in dinky cages. Or zero bears in lieu of something that looks more natural in a small home, like lizards.