Study after study continues to show elephants are intelligent, self-aware individuals who possess a tremendous sense of family, empathy, and community. So much evidence has accumulated that even mainstream scientific publications are starting to take notice. In his recent Scientific American article “The Science Is In: Elephants Are Even Smarter Than We Realized,” Ferris Jabr argues that this mounting evidence proves that we should not keep elephants captive in zoos.
Jabr references recent studies by such renowned scientists as Cynthia Moss, Joshua Plotnik and Frans de Waal that depict the intelligence of elephants, their problem-solving skills and their heightened sense of empathy. These studies, along with many others already noted by the NhRP, are just a part of a rapidly growing database of scientific evidence regarding elephant knowledge and sentience. Jabr writes:
“As few as eight years ago there were almost no carefully controlled experiments showing that elephants could match chimpanzees and other brainiacs of the animal kingdom in tool use, self-awareness and tests of problem-solving.
Because of recent experiments designed with the elephant’s perspective in mind, scientists now have solid evidence that elephants are just as brilliant as they are big: They are adept tool users and cooperative problem solvers; they are highly empathic, comforting one another when upset; and they probably do have a sense of self.”
Tales of elephants’ intelligence, never forgetting, and mourning their dead have been around since antiquity and are even woven into the fables of multiple religions. This respect and awe go back centuries. Yet, even with all of the newly discovered scientific knowledge, elephants continue to suffer in captivity under the guise of “research” and “conservation.”
Citing numerous studies of captive elephants, Jabr states, “The latest research on the well-being of U.S. zoo elephants is not particularly encouraging.”
A study in Science Daily the abysmal life experienced by the roughly 300 elephants currently held captive in U.S. zoos. Jabr writes:
“The researchers assessed the physical and mental health of captive elephants with a combination of photographs, videos, blood and hormone tests, veterinary reports, and surveys filled out by caretakers. About 75 percent of the elephants were overweight or obese; between 25 and 40 percent had foot or joint problems of some kind depending on the year; and 80 percent displayed behavioral tics, such as pacing and continual head bobbing or swaying.
Ed Stewart, president of the Performing Animal Welfare Society’s 930-hectare sanctuary for former zoo and circus elephants:
“Elephants should not be in captivity – period. It doesn’t matter if it’s a zoo, a circus or [even] a sanctuary. The social structure isn’t correct, the space is not right, the climate is not right, the food is not right. You can never do enough to match the wild. They are unbelievably intelligent. With all of that brainpower – to be as limited as they are in captivity – it’s a wonder they cope at all. In 20 years I hope we will look back and think, ‘Can you believe we ever kept those animals in cages?'”
All of which is captured most succinctly in the subtitle of Jabr’s article:
“We now have solid evidence that elephants are some of the most intelligent, social and empathic animals around—so how can we justify keeping them in captivity?”