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Ele­phants in Hanover Zoo ‘liv­ing in daily fear’ due to beat­ings by keepers

pub­lished 08 April 2017 | mod­i­fied 08 April 2017

Elephants in Hanover ZooA new PETA video offers a glimpse behind the scenes at Germany’s Hanover Adven­ture Zoo, where employ­ees were caught using whips, bull-​hooks — weapons resem­bling a fire­place poker with a sharp metal hook on one end — and even, in one instance, a fist to force ele­phants to per­form circus-​style tricks to enter­tain vis­i­tors. In response, PETA Ger­many has filed a com­plaint with local law enforce­ment and is call­ing for an end to the facility’s ele­phant exhibit and breed­ing programme.

It is sim­ply an out­dated approach to train­ing, rec­og­nized as harm­ful to ele­phants and unnec­es­sary in a mod­ern zoo environment.
« Carol Buck­ley, ele­phant wel­fare consultant

Buck­ley, who eval­u­ated the footage, explains that the sole pur­pose of this sys­tem­atic abuse — whereby the train­ers inflict pain on adult and baby ele­phants for even the slight­est per­ceived infrac­tion — is to teach them tricks and that it can lead to long-​lasting trauma.

No zoo can pro­vide ele­phants with the open space, free­dom, and com­pan­ion­ship these highly intel­li­gent liv­ing beings need in order to thrive”, says PETA Direc­tor Elisa Allen.

If zoos were seri­ous about pro­tect­ing endan­gered species, they would ask the pub­lic to donate to pro­grammes that pro­tect ani­mals in their native habi­tats, rather than turn­ing them into liv­ing exhibits.
Elisa Allen, PETA Director »

Hanover Zoo response
After being con­fronted with the footage, the zoo dis­missed the claims of ani­mal abuse . Hanover Zoo insisted that the record­ings do not dis­cernibly show the ani­mals being beaten. Instead, zoo direc­tor Cas­dorff said the zookeep­ers were sim­ply guid­ing the elephants

You have to repeat the exer­cises often because you have to train the ani­mals so they fol­low [also for med­ical treat­ment], that requires reg­u­lar exer­cises,” said Andreas Cas­dorff, direc­tor of the zoo. “Our zookeep­ers work in a team with their ani­mals. None of them would mali­ciously hurt an animal.”

But col­leagues from other Ger­man zoos are not so sure. The ele­phants at Hanover are trained by the so-​called ‘direct-​contact’ method, which is “now out­dated” accord­ing Pro­fes­sor Man­fred Niekisch, direc­tor of Frank­furt Zoo. Niekisch added that “beat­ings and chains are things from a past where peo­ple thought they had to mas­ter animals”.

EAZA state­ment
Also the Euro­pean Asso­ci­a­tion of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) does not con­done incor­rect or exces­sive use of the bull-​hook or ankus. EAZA Mem­bers, such as Hanover Zoo, are bound by the Association’s Guide­lines on the use of ani­mals in demon­stra­tions (2014), which set out clearly the role ani­mals can play in edu­ca­tional activ­i­ties, and show clear lim­its within which demon­stra­tions should remain to main­tain the wel­fare and dig­nity of the animals.

More­over, EAZA’s first respon­si­bil­ity lies with the wel­fare of the ani­mals at Hanover Zoo, and EAZA has sought an expla­na­tion of the film’s con­tents from the insti­tu­tion and reas­sur­ances that the ani­mals are being cared for in accor­dance with the hus­bandry guide­lines and our Stan­dards for the Accom­mo­da­tion and Care of Ani­mals at Zoos and Aquar­i­ums (2015). These reas­sur­ances, if and when forth­com­ing, will be exam­ined in detail. There­fore, EAZA is in con­tact with Hanover Zoo and will review all the evi­dence as part of their com­mit­ment to trans­par­ent and solution-​oriented process in the han­dling of the case.

PETA — whose motto reads, in part, that “ani­mals are not ours to use for enter­tain­ment” — notes that ele­phants are highly social ani­mals who thrive in matri­ar­chal herds, pro­tect­ing each other, car­ing for their young, and trav­el­ling many miles a day. In zoos, they’re con­fined to small enclo­sures, caus­ing them to develop arthri­tis and other foot prob­lems — which can be fatal — and to suf­fer from psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress. Many cap­tive ele­phants show signs of zoo­chosis, includ­ing repeat­edly sway­ing back and forth. Their life expectancy is half that of ele­phants in the wild.

Ensur­ing a good wel­fare for ani­mals housed in zoos, is not an easy job. It might not even be some­thing we will ever really get a per­fect grip on. Ani­mal species have evolved over many years and their phys­i­cal, phys­i­o­log­i­cal, social and behav­ioural traits have been devel­oped in order for them to sur­vive as best as they can in their nat­ural envi­ron­ment. In cap­tiv­ity, ani­mals may face a num­ber of chal­lenges which evo­lu­tion has not pre­pared them for and dis­ables the ani­mal to ful­fil their behav­ioural needs. The absence of these, cli­mate, diet, the size and char­ac­ter­is­tics of their enclo­sure or the fact that they have to rely on humans for their every need can cause an ani­mal to feel stressed in which it starts to per­form a stereo­typic behav­iour. Repet­i­tive, abnor­mal behav­iour is often regarded as an indi­ca­tor of poor wel­fare and is stud­ied as a cop­ing mech­a­nism, and mea­sures of stress which can poten­tially go on to cause brain dys­func­tion. Nanna Påske­sen believes, that the dis­play of abnor­mal behav­iour pat­terns are not recog­nised enough by the pub­lic eye. That is why she has decided to make this doc­u­men­tary to edu­cate you about what lies behind these stereo­typic behav­iours which we can eas­ily iden­tify, but might not have given a fur­ther thought about, or brought a neg­a­tive judge­ment upon when vis­it­ing the zoo. The study of stereo­typic behav­iour is com­pli­cated with many impor­tant fac­tors that deter­mines the health of a cap­tive ani­mal. ‘Zoo­chosis’ will bring you the whole pic­ture of how ani­mals expe­ri­ence liv­ing in a stress­ful and unnat­ural envi­ron­ment, and how it effects their men­tal and nat­ural life.

(Source: PETA news release, 07.04.2017; THE LOCAL​.de news, 04.04.2017; The Irish Times news, 05.04.2017; EAZA state­ment release, 05.04.2017)

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