Category Archives: 4. Welfare News

Big victory for elephants at CITES in Doha

We are happy to report that elephants did well at CITES in Doha! We firmly believe that, if they had been accepted, the proposals from Tanzania and Zambia would have further stimulated the ivory trade and the killing of elephants. We feel extremely pleased that months of work and collaboration with scientists and other stakeholders around the world led to this good result for elephants.

Please read a final CITES update and some thoughts on ElephantVoices.

Happy Easter!

Trumpets, Petter and Joyce

The Elephant Charter – visit and sign on!

We are grateful if you are willing to spread the word about The Elephant Charter. The intention with the online Charter is to provide a set of guiding Principles, based on elephant biology, to form a touchstone for anyone needing to address elephant interests.

Buttressed by its Appendix, The Elephant Charter represents a consensus of the nature of elephants. It is intended to promote scientifically sound and ethical management and care of all elephants, providing guidance to law and policy makers, enforcement agencies and the courts, organizations, institutions and international bodies, as well as to managers of wild and captive elephants.

The Elephant Charter is independent of any particular group or institution. Rather, its force comes from the expertise and stature of the elephant biologists who are its signatories. Its authors, Joyce Poole, Cynthia Moss, Raman Sukumar, Andrea Turkalo and Katy Payne are eminent elephant field biologists representing the longest studied populations of African savannah, Asian and African forest elephants: the elephants of Amboseli, Mudumalai and Dzanga Bai. With four decades of groundbreaking research on wild elephants, together with the research of many colleagues, they are collectively in a position to speak with confidence about the interests of elephants wherever they may be.

On the site elephant biologists are invited to join as Signatories, and to take ownership of the sentiments reflected in The Elephant Charter and to uphold its Principles.  So far close to 50 elephant biologists have signed on.

You will furthermore find an invitation to members of the public, who wish to make their voices heard, to add their names as Supporting Signatories.

The Elephant Charter

The elephant in the well – Kibo and his new life

In February we told the story about the baby elephant that fell into a man-made well west of Kilimanjaro, and how she ended up at the elephant orphanage at The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi.

You may read what we just posted on ElephantVoices, and see the video from the rescue either there or below. Sometimes a bad situation ends up ok – even though I’m sure Kibo is still missing his family!

[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /] soon back online – Ringling case

We have been quiet for a long time here on WildlifeDirect, mainly because we’re working so hard to get our new and substantially expanded back online. The new website is much more than a presentation of what we do – it is, and will increasingly be, a bank of information for anyone interested in elephants – their basic behavior, communication and welfare – in the wild and in captivity. As wild elephants are squeezed into smaller and smaller spaces there are a growing number of issues that affect their welfare and survival and we will be highlighting these. The website will be available in a week or so – we’ll inform you as soon as it goes online.

Circus Agora's new elephant...One of issues that has taken time and effort over many years, is Joyce’s participation as expert witness in the Ringling case. After 8 years of preparation (4 for Joyce) the case was finally heard in February. You will find a recent news update on KTNV ABC about the case here, and a link to Court Filings and Exhibits for the Ringling Bros. Elephant Abuse Case here. The verdict will be delivered by Judge Sullivan in a few weeks time.

Over the last four years we have also been working to convince the Norwegian government to ban the use of elephants in Norwegian circuses. One of three currently on the road, Circus Agora, decided to act before being told to and went animal-free this year. To show our support for the change we attended a performance when they were in town a couple of weeks ago. We were truly impressed by their program, and hope that more and more circuses around the world will follow suit. Circus Agora still has an elephant as a mascot – but this one has four legs and two bodies – one front and one back! Fair enough…

We wish all WD visitors and bloggers a great summer!

Joyce and Petter

Mind and Movement: Meeting the interests of elephants

Several WD visitors have asked us where they can get a copy of the book An Elephant In The Room: The Science and Well-Being of Elephants in Captivity. We do know that the book will be made available on, but we are also aware that that may still take a bit of time. We will keep you updated. The opening chapter in the book, Mind and Movement: Meeting the interests of elephants, is written by ElephantVoices’ Joyce Poole and Petter Granli. You may open and download the chapter here (.pdf-file, 2,2 mb).
The Science and Well-Being of Elephants in Captivity
Cover photos by Petter Granli, ElephantVoices.

Elephant conference at PAWS, California, 24 to 26 April

The Performing Animal Welfare Society’s (PAWS) 25th Anniversary Gala and Conference takes place at ARK2000 in San Andreas, California, from 24 to 26 April. Joyce is one of the keynote speakers, and will participate throughout the conference.  Join leading wildlife and captive wildlife experts for an interactive full 3-Day Conference!

Joyce finally in court in legal case against Ringling Brothers Circus

Joyce is currently in Washington DC to testify as expert witness in the legal case against Ringling Brothers Circus. She will be in court as the first witness tomorrow, Wednesday February 4th.  The courtroom is open to the public. The New York Times are among media that covers the suit – this article is from January 31st.

Getting close to legal case against Ringling Brothers Circus – again

We are once more getting close to the opening day of the legal case against Ringling Brothers Circus for their mistreatment of elephants, in which Joyce is one of the expert witnesses. The case has been mentioned in this blog on WildlifeDirect a few times, the first being February 2007. We hope that the case will go according to plan this time, and that it will be concluded with a positive outcome for elephants.

The legal case against Ringling Brothers has been followed by the media for many years – this news piece on CBS4 from 4 January 2006 is one of very many examples.

Cheers, Petter

An Elephant In The Room, new book

A new book is on the market: An Elephant In The Room: The Science and Well-Being of Elephants in Captivity. The opening chapter in the book, Mind and Movement: Meeting the interests of elephants, is written by ElephantVoices’ Joyce Poole and Petter Granli.
The Science and Well-Being of Elephants in Captivity
Cover photos by ElephantVoices’ Petter Granli.

From the back cover:
“There once were about 160 species of elephants, reaching back across 60 million years. Today, only three remain, and their survival is not certain.

An Elephant In The Room: The Science and Well-Being of Elephants in Captivity, authored by experts from around the world and astride many disciplines, brings a new voice to assist their future. It examines the many and perplexing difficulties of elephants in captivity, looking for the best questions and trying to provide good answers,

The book presents the biological, ecological, and social dimensions of elephant behavior in the wild as the basis for any sound understanding of what elephants want and need. It discusses the effects of trauma and stress upon elephants, with a close look at current captive management systems and beliefs. It also offers a scientific assessment of captive elephant welfare, and practical methods to improve fundamental aspects of the lives of elephants in captivity. Presentations of new and impressive initiatives in the form of orphanages and sanctuaries provide hope for the future, as do new visions that would transform the current management regimes in zoos.

Humans have over millennia caused elephants enormous anguish, and even their imminent demise. Are we also capable of saving them? Is captivity a requirement for this, and if so, what should it be like? What are the special needs of elephants? What can be done to improve their quality of life?

The number of zoos giving up their elephants has been growing in recent times. More are questioning whether zoos can provide for the extraordinary demands of these extraordinary beings. To help address this, the book concludes with a set of Best Practices: a synthesis of science and ethics to guide a healthier future for captive elephants.

Anyone interested in animal welfare, and especially the welfare of elephants in captivity, will find this book essential and enlightening reading.”

An Elephant In The Room: The Science and Well-Being of Elephants in Captivity, will soon be available on

Playing elephant sounds for elephants – ElephantVoices visit at PAWS 15 November

Some of you have seen the responses (online or in person) of Ruby, Maggie, Mara and Lulu to some elephant sounds that I played to them when Petter and I visited Ark2000 on 15 November for a joint fundraiser for PAWS and ElephantVoices. Their responses were so strong that some people have been concerned that the sounds were upsetting to the girls. I want to take a moment here to address that concern.

Over the years we have been approached a few times by people who have wanted to use some of the calls in our collection as enrichment for elephants in zoos. I have been reluctant to allow our recordings for this purpose because I have felt that people who didn’t understand the calls or the responses of the elephants to them could misuse them. I also feel that elephants are smart enough to figure out pretty quickly that the sounds are just a ploy – that there aren’t any real elephant out there to be companions – and then playing them is just unkind.

The situation at PAWS was different because I was there, able to monitor the elephants, along with Pat, Ed, and all the others who work with these individuals and know their behavior and responses so well. Also, having watched these elephants in the past, I knew I was dealing with individuals who were relaxed and well integrated and, in particular, were elephants who had one another’s companionship and support to rely on.

Petter and I played several sounds to the PAWS elephants. The first was a musth rumble (made only by sexually active males), followed by a mating pandemonium (the excitement that follows a mating), and then a sequence in which a calf screamed (because a lion jumped on it) which was immediately followed by the angry sounds of mother elephants threatening the lion and calling in members of their family for support.

Joyce playing sounds for PAWS elephantsSo how did Ruby, Maggie, Mara and Lulu respond to these sounds?

When the musth rumble was played:
Maggie and Mara were near fence and were very relaxed until the sound is played. They lifted their heads, Mara folded her ears (a threat) and they first ran away (they were taken by surprise by a sound nearby that they didn’t expect) and then Mara turned toward the speaker. She whirled and trumpeted with excitement (Not with fear) and they all ran together, spun around, trumpeted and rumbled (throaty and modulated sound – typical excited rumble) and then some of the elephants urinated. This is typical of a high level excited response of females to the sound of a musth rumble in the wild. The manner in which they spun around together showed how bonded they are.

When the mating pandemonium was played:
The four elephants were some distance off. They listened to the sounds of many elephants and appeared not sure what to do. They started to walk away, then stopped. Ruby was in the front and was contemplating what to do. She turned her head from one side to the other trying to localize/ understand the source of the sound. She appeared unsure of what to do.

When the scream and antipredator rumbles were played:
As soon as the calf screamed, Ruby paid attention. As the mother elephants began their loud roaring rumbles, Ruby came forward and then charged uphill toward the sound and stood tall (aggressive) near the fence. Then she ran back to the other elephants and backed into them. They trumpeted and bunch in a defensive formation. Ruby charged uphill again and gave a trumpet blast – as might be given toward a predator. All the elephants moved away in a bunched formation. They held their heads high with their trunks curled under in an apprehensive posture.

The elephants heard a calf in danger and the sounds of other elephants threatening a predator and calling for help. They responded just as they would in the wild – with alarm and then with anger. Ruby showed real leadership – she acted like a mother and a matriarch in the situation and came to the defence of the group – exactly the kind of response that one would expect to see in the wild.

While it may be rare for captive elephants to react so strongly to a stimulus, the responses were very typical of wild elephants and we were able to observe a range of reactions from high-level social excitement to fierce defence. In the wild when we do playback experiments we hope for reactions like this. I have many videos of elephants running from sounds, bunching, charging and some in which they do not respond with more than listening behavior. Playbacks are a tool for learning what these sounds mean.

The elephants’ responses showed just what a strong leader Ruby (from LA Zoo) has becomes and how tight the bonds are between the four elephants. PAWS can be extremely proud of the work they have done to facilitate the development of this family unit.

Trumpets, Joyce