A 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.
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.
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 The elephants at Hanover are trained by the so-called ‘direct-contact’ method, which is “now outdated” according Professor Manfred Niekisch, director of Frankfurt Zoo.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”.
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.