thai elephant imports
Elephants thank HSI for more comfortable lives at zoo
Why did HSI challenge the zoos
Oxford University' s Animal Behavioural Unit says elephants suffer in zoos
Australian expert says Asian elephants doomed in Australian zoos
Humane Society International is pleased we have been able to improve the welfare conditions for 8 Asian elephants coming to Taronga and Melbourne zoos.
HSI joined with the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the RSPCA to challenge a decision by Federal Environment Minister, Senator Ian Campbell, to allow the importation of the elephants from Thailand to facilities now shown to have been inadequate. While our primary position was for the elephants to stay in Thailand, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has ruled that the elephants can come to Australia, but only if a number of important welfare conditions are improved.
As a result of the court case, the elephants will have more comfortable sleeping quarters and mandatory exercise requirements. Electric shock wiring will have to be removed from trees to allow the elephants to scratch and forage. Taronga zoo will have to install earth banks for their elephants to lie on and mud wallows for the elephants to play in will be increased. CCTV will record the elephants 24 hours a day so that behavioural problems can be identified. Both Melbourne and Taronga zoo will now have to comply with husbandry standards that were previously voluntary. The elephant enclosure at Taronga zoo is particularly small, and the Judge has ruled that if the elephants cannot be satisfactorily exercised there, and if other contingency plans fail, the elephants should move to the zoo's open range facility at Western Plains, Dubbo.
The Judge has also ruled that a male elephant to be housed in isolation at Taronga must retain social contact with the other elephants.
Elephants have long life spans and very complex social and biological needs. HSI is confident the elephants will be grateful for the stronger welfare provisions the court case has brought them.
There is a long history of elephants suffering serious health and welfare problems in zoos. HSI and our colleagues from the other animal welfare organisations will be closely monitoring the elephants' welfare once they arrive at the zoos and will alert the authorities to any problems.
The RSPCA and the International Fund for Animal Welfare were our partners in the court case. The case also received generous support from the UK RSPCA, the Born Free Foundation and the World Society for the Protection of Animals. We were ably represented by the Environmental Defenders Office.
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Applicants' Opening Submission - 7 October 2005
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Humane Society International, the RSPCA and the International Fund for Animal Welfare appealed the decision of the Minister for Environment & Heritage, Senator Ian Campbell, to allow Taronga and Melbourne Zoo to import 8 young elephants from Thailand.
HSI joined the appeal because we do not believe the imports meet the animal welfare and conservation requirements of Australia' s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
It has been well documented that elephants suffer in zoos, experiencing a raft of health and stress related problems. In Europe and the United States public opinion is turning against elephants in zoos, and a number have closed their exhibits recognising that, no matter how hard they try, they cannot cater for the complex welfare needs of these emotionally intelligent animals.
In HSI' s view importing these 8 elephants to zoos in Australia will not contribute to conservation of the species in the wild. Taronga and Melbourne Zoos have said they have no intention of returning any elephants they do manage to breed, to the wild in Asia. Nor would it be feasible. The aim of the imports is to stock Australian zoos with elephants for the future because their current elephants are aging.
Experts have analysed the breeding program proposed by the zoos and do not think it will meet their own objective of achieving a self-sustaining elephant population in Australian zoos. Due to animal welfare problems elephants breed poorly in zoos. Ovarian cysts and low sperm counts are common. When pregnancies are achieved, the rates of still births, calf rejection and infant mortality rates are high.
Breeding will require invasive artificial insemination techniques, particularly because the zoos are opting to house the elephants in separate groups rather than in one herd at one of their open range facilities. Artificial insemination techniques are not well proven and bring with them their own animal welfare problems.
Conservation must be focused on addressing the serious threats to Asian elephants in their homeland. If spent in Asia, the tens of millions of dollars of public money being spent to bring these 8 elephants for a life in Australian zoos, could do enormous good for the conservation and welfare for hundreds of elephants in the wild and in captivity in their homelands. While the zoos may raise money from private donors for wild conservation, HSI' s own successful fundraising for conservation projects in Asia proves that you do not have to display wild elephants and put their welfare at risk to do it.
We are concerned there may be negative conservation consequences surrounding the imports. It is possible that not all of the 8 elephants the zoos purchased from camps in Thailand are captive bred. The registration system for captive elephants in Thailand is not reliable and it appears to be impossible to prove that these elephants were all conceived and born in captivity. Not even the parentage of some of the elephants is know. We find this particularly concerning considering there is an illegal trade in wild elephant calves in Asia. We are also concerned that in purchasing elephants from camps in Thailand the zoos may have risked stimulating the demand for live juvenile elephants that drives this illegal trade.
HSI, RSPCA and IFAW relied on scientific evidence and testimonials from international elephant experts to argue our case.
We were generously represented by the Environmental Defenders Office and barristers Stephen Rares, Margaret Allars and Louise Byrne. The case also had the kind support of the Born Free Foundation, RSPCA UK and World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA).
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