The Myth of Elephant Conservation in North American Zoos

2. September 2020

The St. Louis zoo inaugurated this year’s World Elephant Day in August by euthanizing 26 day old Asian elephant Ravi, an elephant baby that should not have been born in the first place.  Ravi, according to the zoo officials, suffered from impairments limiting his ability to feed. Born on July 6, the zoo’s elephant care team had Ravi on life support measures for weeks, before his health deteriorated rapidly. According to Jeffrey P. Bonner, Ph.D. and CEO of the St. Louis Zoo,  ” our team of professional elephant care experts did everything possible to help improve the calf’s health. Unfortunately, in the end, it just wasn’t enough as his health complications were too severe.” (1)

In reality, baby Ravi and his parents Rani (mother) and Raja (father) are all three part of a long line of innocent victims of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Asian Elephants Species Survival Plan. The AZA’s objective of maintaining a genetically healthy population of Asian elephants in North American zoos, is a giant con based on two false assumptions: that  elephants can best be studied by visitors and scientists in zoos and that they are nearly extinct in the wild. To emphasize that elephants are dying out in the wild, Louis Padilla, Vice President of Animal Collection for the St.Louis zoo stated falsely that there are only 3,500 wild Asian elephants left. The World Wildlife Fund estimates the remaining wild elephants in Asia at between 30,000 to 50,00 animals, which is not to say that they are not endangered in the wild.  (2)

Asian elephant family in Chiang Mai. Elephant Nature Park, Thailand. Photo credit: Otiol Queroi / shutterstock

Wild elephants are sentient, intelligent, social animals with astounding self-awareness, excellent communication skills and they need much land to roam with their families. Elephant cows stay with their mothers their entire lives and need to be taught the complexities of dealing with their natural environment.  None of this can be achieved in zoos. There they are often sick, without company in small indoor cages with limited outdoor space, every move (often brutally) enforced by their keepers. Elephants in zoos have zero educational value. A good nature program on television or a book about wild elephants will serve that purpose much better. Elephant experts around the world have recognized that elephants in zoos are deprived of everything that makes them real elephants. Leading elephant experts are pleading with some success for  zoos to discontinue their elephant exhibits. (3)

Zoos are spending millions to increase their exhibits by a few square meters when square miles are needed. An annual budget of just $ 500,000 supports 1,500 wild elephants in Kenya’s Amboseli Park, also protecting farmers living around the park loosing crops to elephants. The Amboseli elephants are the least threatened elephant population in Africa. (4)

In fact, Andy Corby of the Good News Network just reported that there is an elephant baby boom in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park. 140 elephants were born in a single calving season, a record in this park. (5)

African elephants: Big sister protecting her younger sibling. Photo credit: Courtesy Thula Thula Game Reserve / shutterstock

Nonetheless, the AZA and its members are desperate for baby elephants, thereby hastening their  extinction. Elephants are not thriving in zoos. The over-all mortality rate for infant elephants in zoos is a staggering 40%, nearly triple the rate of wild elephants in Asia and Africa. Zoos therefore resort to importing wild born elephant infants or rely on in-zoo breeding, shipping elephants from zoo to zoo in the search of ideal partners, or increasingly on cruel artificial insemination programs. According to Michael J.Berens, as he reported in the Seattle Times, ” breeding elephants in captivity has been a colossal failure. For every elephant born in a zoo, another two die…… At the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, an elephant named Chai was subjected to traumatic artificial insemination 112 times, with only one successful birth – a calf who later died. In a 25-year period at the Houston Zoo, 14 out of 14 elephant calves died-a 100% mortality rate……

The bottom line is that zoos breed elephants because babies bring paying visitors through the gates” (6) and not as they want you to believe for conserving the species as happy prisoners in North American zoos.


(1) CNN  August 3, 2020 : Baby elephant dies 27 days after his birth at St Louis zoo

(2) World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Asian Elephant  world

(3) EMS Foundation conference in Hermanus, 6 September 201. Top international biologists and planners call for an end to elephants in captivity. Conference streaming:

(4) Dr. Keith Lindsay- Amboseli Trust for Elephants.

(5) Andy Corby-Good News Network. Elephant Baby Boom in Kenya;

(6) The Seattle Times: Michael J. Berens: Elephants are dying out in America’s zoos originally published December 1, 2012