Skip to content

Two Fresno Chaffee Zoo elephants are pregnant

By Lauren Choplin

This week the Fresno Chaffee Zoo made what they consider an exciting announcement: 28-year-old Nolwazi and her 13-year-old daughter Amahle are pregnant. The father is Mabu, a 33-year-old elephant the zoo brought in last year to use for captive breeding.

This news is nothing to celebrate. It’s sickening and wrong. Nothing about these pregnancies is natural, and they are yet another egregious example of how Mabu, Nolwazi, and Amahle have no control over their lives. It will be the same for their babies, who will be condemned to a lifetime in zoo captivity and all the physical and psychological harm this causes, including being subjected to further captive breeding.

Zoos teach zoo visitors only basic facts, like how much elephants weigh and what they like to eat. Many zoo visitors don’t know that elephants are self-aware beings who need and want to live freely, just as we do. They don’t know that many elephants in zoos are obese because they don’t get sufficient exercise and lack freedom of movement. For example, in the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, the elephants can’t walk more than 100 yards in any direction. In contrast, elephants in the wild are active more than 20 hours a day and roam for miles over varied terrain.

Many zoo visitors don’t know that many elephants in zoos have arthritis or develop foot abnormalities (such as chronically cracked or infected fat pads on their feet) from standing on unnatural surfaces like concrete. Sometimes these issues become so severe the elephants have to be euthanized. In 2017, an elephant in the Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Kara, was euthanized at age 42 because of pain from chronic osteoarthritis. She lived at the zoo for 34 years.

Experts have shown that elephants experience permanent brain damage as a result of the trauma endured in impoverished environments. Many elephants held captive in zoos exhibit behaviors indicative of stress and boredom that do not occur in the wild. For example, the elephants in the Fresno Chaffee Zoo have been captured on film bobbing and rocking. Elephants in zoos also die at a younger age than elephants in the wild.

Many zoo visitors also don’t know that Nolwazi and Amahle were among 39 elephants who once roamed freely in eSwatini, formerly Swaziland. In 2016, they and 15 other elephants, most of them breeding-age females, were taken from their natural habitat and imported to US zoos despite global public outcry, including from 80 respected elephant and conservation experts. In 2003, Mabu was also taken from his natural habitat in Africa despite global public outcry.

Zoos claim that breeding, confining, and displaying elephants will help protect elephants who are living in their natural habitats. Nothing could be further from the truth. US zoos are not releasing elephants to the wild. The evidence is clear that elephants in zoos endure endless suffering because of their lack of freedom, and their imprisonment does nothing to save the still dwindling population of free-living elephants.

Captive breeding is a cruel and archaic practice that helps zoos make money. It doesn’t help elephants. What’s needed aren’t new generations of elephants imprisoned in zoos but a fundamental change in how we treat members of this species, including recognition of their fundamental legal right to liberty.

Our litigation to #FreeTheFresnoElephants is our first lawsuit in California. Learn more about Amahle, Nolwazi, and Mabu’s case on their client page.

Sign up to receive the latest updates on our mission

Find out about opportunities to get involved, breaking news in our cases and campaigns, and more.