November 14, 2009

India To Move Zoo Elephants To Protected Parks

Officials in India said Friday that all elephants residing in the nation's zoos and circuses will be relocated to game sanctuaries where they can roam more freely.

Some 140 elephants in 26 zoos and 16 circuses throughout India will be moved, said B.K. Gupta, an officer at India's Central Zoo Authority.

The order came after animal rights activists complained that the elephants were kept in captivity and often chained for extended periods of time, Gupta told the Associated Press.

The elephants will be moved to "elephant camps" run by India's forest department and located near protected areas and national parks.  

Once there, the animals can freely roam and graze while traditional elephant trainers known as "mahouts" watch over them.

But some experts worry that many of India's wildlife preserves are already threatened by human habitation.

"Special facilities have to be created, perhaps outside the wildlife sanctuaries. It may add to the pressures faced by natural habitats," said Raman Sukumar, a professor of ecology at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.

Research has shown that elephants in the wild live longer and have better health and reproductive histories than those kept in captivity, Sukumar told the AP.

Elephants kept in zoos often suffer premature death, and are more likely to experience arthritis and contract disease more frequently than their counterparts living in natural habitats, he said.

An estimated 28,000 wild elephants live in India's forest reserves and national parks, mainly in the southern and northeastern regions of the country. 

Another 3,500 elephants are held in captivity, mostly in temples, or work in logging camps where they are used to lift timber.  Authorities have not yet decided what to do with these elephants, the AP reported.

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