COPY OF AN OPEN LETTER ADDRESSED TO:
The Director of the San Juan De Aragon Zoo, The Secretary of the Environmental Department Jefa de Gobierno
22nd February 2022
The Pro Elephant Network (PREN)1 consists of an international community of diverse individuals and organizations, comprising specific expertise from both western and eastern academies on wild and captive elephants, including the fields of science, health, conservation, elephant welfare, economics, community leadership, social justice and the law.
Members of PREN have contributed in recent years to extensive research and to the recognition of who elephants are and of their individual needs2. There is growing evidence that, of all animals, elephants are among those who suffer the most in captivity3. In fact, results have shown that despite consistent efforts in providing enrichment at the zoo, the needs of elephants are still compromised4. Not only are captive elephants likely to acquire physical ailments that invariably shorten their lifespan5, they are also prone to developing psychological issues that can render depression6, stereotypy7 and self-harm8.
PREN Members have been made aware of the conditions and behaviour of Ely, the forty-one year old African Elephant, currently living in the San Juan de Aragon Zoo and are offering to assist by proposing alternatives and practical solutions for the improvement of her life and a sustainable way forward.
All elephants live highly complex social and emotional lives and need physical contact and bonding with other con- specifics and suffer tremendously when forced in solitude9.
In addition, they crave space and movement10. They evolved to cover long distances while feeding on a rich variety of vegetation across different ecosystems. In the wild they walk an average of 10 kilometres, and sometimes as many as 50km, every day, with home ranges covering hundreds of square kilometres11. When elephants’ movements are restricted in a captive environment, they develop potentially fatal conditions of their bones, joints and cardiovascular systems12. Elephants’ vital endeavours include mud wallowing, bathing, interacting with their companions through touch, vocalisation and olfaction and countless other social behaviours13. Given their complex brain, suite of emotional responses and physical expressiveness in a socially embedded life-style, it should not come as a surprise that the denial of any of these conditions through their captivity in undersized enclosures with inappropriate hard substrates and lack of enrichment, results in physical and psychological trauma and abnormal behaviour14.
Stereotypy, that invariant restrictive and apparently purposeless repetition of motor patterns, is commonly seen in captive elephants and indeed many captive animals held in impoverished environments. Exposure to psychological stress, which may be caused by close confinement and solitary living, has direct physiological consequences that impact the body’s ability to function15.
For these reasons, a total of 70 elephant exhibits have been closed or converted globally16. Zoos around the world (in Argentina17, Chile18, Alaska19, Pakistan20, etc.) have in recent times recognised that, despite their best efforts, they have been unable to meet the needs of their elephants; they have decided to prioritise the welfare needs of elephants and have agreed to translocate them to more suitable environments where the elephant can enjoy more physical and psychological comfort.
At the same time, an increasing number of institutions across the world are the subject of legal challenges over their keeping of elephants21.
PREN elephant experts urge that in order to prevent Ely’s unnecessary premature death, an urgent medical assessment and intervention is required. Members of the Pro Elephant Network are willing to offer their expertise. The implementation of high-priority measures is needed to alleviate Ely’s obvious suffering.
Members of the Pro Elephant Network and other wildlife organizations have participated in the successful relocation and reintegration of elephants, particularly solitary ones, into natural environments22 and to global sanctuaries. Elephant sanctuaries have sprung up around the world from Tennessee23 to Brazil24 to Cambodia25 and California26.
The release of Kaavan from the Islamabad zoo to a wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia made global news27 and the international publicity positively highlighted the administrators of the zoo in question.
PREN members know that the Mexico government would receive international recognition if the zoo administrators were to engage with our elephant specialists in order to find the best solution for Ely and to commit to ending the captivity of elephants at the San Juan de Aragon zoo.
It also came to the attention of our Members that the Head of Government would positively accept Ely to be evaluated by external national and international experts. PREN members hereby extend our collaborative offer to the administrators of the San Juan de Aragon Zoo, we remain available for further engagement and support.