Home / News / World News / The Elephant Sanctuary, PAWS, and Animals Asia Partner to Address Elephant Welfare Concerns in Chinese Zoos.
By: The Elephant Sanctuary

The Elephant Sanctuary, PAWS, and Animals Asia Partner to Address Elephant Welfare Concerns in Chinese Zoos.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 12, 2015 Media...

Concern for elephant welfare in China

June 12, 2015
Media Contact: Mary Beth Ikard, APR
931.306.9774 | marybeth@elephants.com

The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee has partnered with the Performing Animal Welfare Society and Animals Asia to help consult on ways to improve elephant wellbeing in Chinese zoos and safari parks. Margaret Whittaker, The Elephant Sanctuary’s Director of Elephant Care, and Brian Busta, PAWS’ Sanctuary Manager & Senior Elephant Keeper, traveled to China to introduce humane training and other welfare concepts to elephant managers in China.

Animals Asia reports that Chinese zoo personnel and exhibits are often ill-equipped to address elephants’ complex behavioral, psychological, physiological, and social needs. Whittaker and Busta will offer Protected Contact positive reinforcement training and provide management advice to over 70 senior animal managers at a workshop organized by the Chinese Zoo Association, and will make onsite visits to facilities for keeper staff consultations and support.

Also according to Animals Asia, elephants in many Chinese zoos and safari parks are housed in substandard facilities, chained for a large portion of their day, often kept in social isolation, provided with little to no enrichment, sometimes suffer from untreated physical ailments, and in some cases are made to perform. These conditions can lead to physical and emotional stress that manifests in behavioral abnormalities and negative health impacts, including stereotypic behaviors such as repetitive swaying, rocking and head bobbing. Many elephants in China also live in colder, wetter climates as compared to their native environment. Elephant exhibits in most Chinese zoos operate in a free-contact setting, and rely on use of negative reinforcement training and the bullhook for management.

“The Elephant Sanctuary and its partners in no way condone the conditions in which many elephants are currently living at Chinese zoos and safari parks,” said Margaret Whittaker, Director of Elephant Care for The Elephant Sanctuary. “While elephants are being kept in captivity, however, should their welfare be compromised, we can contribute knowledge and advice on how to improve elephant wellbeing through a collaborative approach, working alongside individual zoos and the Chinese Zoo Association to provide the appropriate training and recommendations, including how they might transition to a Protected Contact1 management program.”

“PAWS is concerned with the welfare of individual wild animals held in captive situations in the United States and around the world,” said PAWS President Ed Stewart. “Any consultation PAWS' staff provides should not be construed as an endorsement of any facility or program. PAWS is opposed to captive breeding and capture of any wild animal. Our intent is never to facilitate any institution increasing its number of animals, but rather to improve the welfare and conditions of the animals currently housed there.”

The workshop will provide animal-managers at Chinese zoos with natural history information specific to elephants, behavior-management training (Protected Contact, positive reinforcement), and advice on enrichment programs. Following a prior workshop in China led by Margaret Whittaker and Gail Laule of Active Environments, participants reported changes made to their elephant-management programs, as well as the introduction of routine foot care and enrichment that helped to improve the welfare of individual elephants in China.

“We thank Margaret and Brian for their time and expertise, and the staff of both PAWS and The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee for their support, so that elephants in China –if they must be in captivity– might live healthier, longer lives,” said David Neale, Animal Welfare Director for the Animals Asia Foundation.

The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee (elephants.com), celebrating 20 years in 2015, is America’s largest natural-habitat refuge for endangered African and Asian elephants. It operates on 2700 acres in Hohenwald, Tenn.—providing captive elephants with individualized care, the companionship of a herd, and the opportunity to live out their lives in a safe haven dedicated to their well-being.

The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWSweb.org), founded in 1984, operates three sanctuaries in Northern California, including the 2300-acre ARK 2000 natural habitat refuge, that are home to a large variety of species including nine Asian and African elephants, African lions, tigers, and other exotic animals rescued or retired from circuses, zoos and the exotic pet trade.

Animals Asia (AnimalsAsia.org) campaigns for an end to abusive animal practices in zoos and safari parks, and works closely with governing authorities to improve animal management and increase awareness of welfare needs of captive animals.


1 Protected Contact (PC) training prohibits the use of the bullhook or any form of physical punishment, and relies instead on the use of positive reinforcement and benign tools called targets. PC management affords the ability to improve elephants’ physical and psychological health, allows elephants to forge amicable social bonds with each other, and heals some of the mistrust of humans they may be experiencing as a result of past inhumane treatment.


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