This photo of African elephants in their natural habitat serves as a reminder of how very social and vibrant these magnificent animals are. In the photo, the mom is stomping her feet to kick up dust at us. She had just bellowed, issuing a clear demand that we intrude no further. We, of course, backed off and left her and her family to live in peace—elephant freedom at its finest. They will continue the ways of elephants in nature: to travel widely, to develop life-long friendships and acquaintances, to communicate over very long distances, and even to hold funerals for lost loved ones. But life in zoos is nothing like that: It is stressful—both physically and mentally—and painfully short when compared to that of elephants in nature. Zoos do not, and cannot, offer anything approaching the social and physical freedom that elephants need.
Thanks in part to the dedicated efforts of PETA India, elephants in that country will no longer be forced to live in zoos. The Central Zoo Authority has banned all zoos from keeping elephants in captivity, meaning no more chains, no more lives spent on concrete instead of grass, and no more years of solitary confinement in cramped quarters. Those currently held in Indian zoos will be released into camps run by the Forest Department near parks and sanctuaries. This comes on the heels of a ban on elephants in circuses in Mumbai and other Indian cities.
The world is awakening to the plight of elephants in captivity and learning how to just say “No!” to such abuse. India—the second most populous country on the planet—is closing all of its elephant zoo facilities, the U.K. has closed five of them, and the U.S. has shut down about a dozen. Beyond zoos, Germany has refused to host the elephant-abusing Ringling Bros. circus, as did Valencia, Spain. The times, they are a-changing!
These animals certainly don’t want to be in chains, to live alone or on barren concrete, or to be beaten into unnatural behaviors like standing on their heads. While there are a few wonderful sanctuaries working to help abused elephants, there are still far too many other places that thrive on denying elephants the freedom they deserve. I hope that by taking action today on their behalf, we can reach a day where the whole world follows India’s lead and rejects holding these social animals in captivity.