Captive elephants

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An elephant carrying tourists in India.

Elephants in captivity are in most cases Asian elephants captured in the wild. Selective breeding of elephants is impractical due to their long reproduction cycle, so there are no domestic breeds. African bush elephants and African forest elephants are less useful to domestication and training.


Royal Elephant

Tame elephants have been recorded since the Indus Valley civilization around 2,000 BCE. They have been used as working animals in forestry, and as war elephants (by commanders such as Hannibal), for cultural and ceremonial use, for execution by elephant, and as public displays such as circus elephants, elephant polo and zoological gardens. The expression white elephant derives from elephants disqualified from useful work, still posing a large ownership cost.

Behaviour and training[edit]

Further information: Elephant cognition
A painting elephant in Thailand.

Elephants have the largest brains of all land animals, and have since Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle[1] been renowned for their cognitive skills, with behavioural patterns shared with humans. Elephants also have a longer lifespan than most livestock. Elephants exhibit a wide variety of behaviors, including those associated with grief, learning, allomothering, mimicry, play, altruism, use of tools, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness, memory, and language. The adult male elephant occasionally goes through a musth period, making him dangerously aggressive.


Successful hand-rearing of orphaned calves depends critically on the milk formula used. Enfamil, a human infant formula is commonly used, but requires to be supplemented with bovine colostrum, commercially available as Colostrix (a colostrum substitute), and lactobacillus to protect the gastrointestinal tract. To provide additional fat desiccated coconut and butterfat are added, also vitamin and mineral supplements, in particular Vitamin E, Vitamin B, and calcium. Rice water strained from cooked rice and glutinous rice broth are useful and are added to the formula to combat diarrhea. Rice cereal, milled whole barley or oatmeal, desiccated coconut, and other ground solid foods are added to the milk of older calves to ease the transition to solid foods.[2]

Welfare concerns[edit]

Animal welfare researchers have raised concern about the physical and mental health of elephants in captivity at zoos in the UK.[3]

Disease transmission[edit]

According to a report published by the Center for Disease Control, approximately 2-12% of captive elephants have tuberculosis.[4]

In 2012, two elephants in Tete d’Or zoo, Lyon were diagnosed with tuberculosis. Due to the threat of transmitting tuberculosis to other animals or visitors to the zoo, their euthanasia was initially ordered by city authorities but a court later overturned this decision.[5]

At an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee, a quarantined 54-year old African elephant being treated for tuberculosis was considered to be the source of latent tuberculosis infections in eight workers.[4][6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O'Connell, Caitlin (2007). The Elephant's Secret Sense: The Hidden Lives of the Wild Herds of Africa. New York City: Simon & Schuster. pp. 174, 184. ISBN 0-7432-8441-0. 
  2. ^ "Hand Raising and Diet Supplementation of Calves" - Colleen Kinzley and Karen Emanuelson
  3. ^ Harris, M., Sherwin, C.M. and Harris, S. (2008). "The welfare, housing and husbandry of elephants in UK zoos.". Defra. Retrieved January 18, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b <Murphree R, et. al. Elephant-to-human transmission of tuberculosis, 2009. Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal Vol. 17, No. 3 - March 2011. DOI: 10.3201/eid1703.101668>
  5. ^ Anon. (2 March 2013). "Victory for Brigitte Bardot as elephants are reprieved". The Telegraph. Retrieved 2 March 2013. 
  6. ^ Ghianni, T. (18 February 2011). "Elephant behind TB outbreak at Tennessee sanctuary". Reuters. Retrieved 1 February 2013.