Animal Rescue: How to Exercise Your Elephant and Repopulate the Species
This Holiday Season I've heard quite a lot of news from Jody's Jungle, an Elephant and animal welfare web site that is very good and updated often. The pages and several links at http://animom.tripod.com/ have provided elephant and other animal anti-abuse news and photos since 1997. It is here that I first learned of Motala, one of the elephants working in Thailand in the logging industry and injured by a land mine.
Motala underwent extensive treatment and therapy in the 1990s-2000s and received a new prosthetic leg in January 2010. She seems quite happy with it. If you visit the site above, you'll first see a new prosthetic leg on a baby elephant Mosha that looks very much like a real leg.
Elephants in captivity need to exercise, and Motala's new leg makes this easier for her to handle.Recent news articles have reported that elephants in captivity often live less than half the lifespan of an elephant in the wilds of Africa of India, because of stress and lack of exercise. Like humans, they need both exercise and a reduction of stress in their lives.
A news item in the Guardian in the UK on December 14, 2008 (Stress and lack of exercise are killing elephants, zoos warned) related that numerous elephant deaths in captivity are likely related to obesity, because they are well fed but exercised little. They live in rather small enclosures as well. High stress levels are also likely to blame, because elephants suffer in transferring between zoos and/or because babies are separated from mothers.
We hear of elephants living for 40-60 years or longer, but the Guardian reported that the average age in Africa was about 39 years and in captivity, a bit less than 17, with Asian figures a year or two higher.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in the UK found that 71 out of 71 elephants in 13 UK zoos were obese and only 11 could walk properly. Other health risk factors were also found to be connected with captivity.
An adult elephant in a small enclosure much be very much like a beef calf penned in a tiny crate for the production of veal. Overall, it is unhealthy for the animal, reducing circulation, possibly raising blood pressure and stress hormone levels, and creating behavioral problems.
Some American captivity is no better than that found be the Guardian, and protest groups line up across from many of the circuses that still operate in the US. Other protest at zoological installations. Despite the efforts of notables like Steve and Terry Irwin and family, Jack Hanna and his family, Joan Embry of the San Diego Zoo, and the staff past and present of Wild Kingdom, much of the American public remains opposed to captivity for elephants and other animals. At the same time, America offers a few very good elephant refuges.
US National Zoo Elephant Community Center
Smithsonian National Zoological Park
The National Zoo recognizes the need for exercise among elephants and the rest of its animal residents. For elephants, the zoo promotes a special project to provide more room and exercise for each animal. It is called Elephant Trek, targets the Asian elephants in the zoo and oversees a system of elephant trails that are the first of their kind in captivity globally.
The Elephant Trek is a woodlands hiking trail for the elephants that is built to look and function like their homeland. Elephants can walk, run, forage, bathe, and behave like elephants in Asia. As of January 2010, the National Zoo stated that they need $500,000 to complete the environment. Indoor space is also being expanded to 500% of current square footage.
Learn more about what the National Zoo is doing for Asian Elephants in the Elephant Trek, complete with progress photos at Elephant Trails: A Campaign to Save Asian Elephants.
For a Rudyard Kipling story from the Jungle Books about young elephant herder Toomai and his late night dance with all the elephants, read Toomai of the Elephants.
The Elephant Dictionary
Good news from the UK comes in the from of a report from theTelegraph on November 7 2009 (Elephant does maternity exercises) that a 20-year-old elephant in Munich is being trained to do stretching exercises in order to preparer her for her upcoming delivery of a new baby elephant after a 22-month pregnancy.
Another form of exercise is used at the San Diego Zoo - the staff Rototills the elephant grounds so that the landscape is more challenging for walking, thus providing exercise. It's described as like walking in deep sand and having done that myself many times for exercise, I think it's pretty effective, San Diego also provides early morning elephant walking for 30 minutes for elephants that are willing to do it.
Elephants can use what is in their environment to make exericise a natural part of their daily lives, much like humans. Equipment is not always necessary.
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