Category Archives: Elephants in captivity

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

Frustrated Elephant Billy in LA Zoo still not out – but gets international attention

In our previous post we wrote about our involvement in trying to convince the LA City Council members to close down the elephant exhibit at the LA Zoo and to shelve plans for building a new one. The proposed exhibit, 3.8 acres for the elephants including a barn with 10 stalls, would be far from satisfactory space for Billy and the proposed 6-10 other Asian elephants they plan to put in there.

The Council met again on 3rd December, and once again has postponed it’s final decision, while Billy keeps bobbing his head in boredom and frustration. The Zoo has been given a chance to source private funds, before a final decision is taken, but with the focus now on finances rather than elephant welfare, we think that the Council is missing the point.

The heated discussions in LA City Council chambers and Billy’s destiny are starting to attract international attention – expressed in this BBC coverage.

The LA Times is following the situation closely, as you can read here. Joyce spoke at length to Council members during our time in LA from 17 to 20 November, and also in an interview with the LA Times. That interview was followed up in another LA Times article 1st December.

We are not very happy that so much focus has been placed on the financial issue – we have no particular opinion about how the city of LA uses it’s money. With such focus it could be argued, in better times, that Billy’s welfare isn’t important. We are certain that the pro-elephant exhibit people will be able to raise enough private funding to continue building if the LA City Council allows them, but if that closes the case leaving Billy still bobbing behind bars that would be very sad.

We hope that strong scientific arguments AND common sense will prevail in the end. This is not about kind keepers versus extreme activists – but about accepting the reality that conditions in urban zoos do not allow a vigorous, social and intelligent animal like the elephant to live a decent life.

The future of Billy in LA Zoo at stake – busy times during lecture and fundraising tour in California

After almost two weeks on the road with several events and fundraisers behind us, we depart from California and Los Angeles this afternoon. We’re busy packing so we don’t have time for more than a very short summary of our trip.

The tour started with a cooking party and two other events in San Francisco, continued with a joint event at PAWS in San Andreas. You can see a video from this event here, including footage of Joyce’s talk and of the responses of Ruby, Maggie, Mara and Lulu to some elephant sounds that we played to them. Their response was so strong that some people were worried that the sounds were upsetting to the girls. 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 responses from high social excitement to fierce defence. Their response showed just what a strong leader Ruby 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.
We finally had an event and fundraiser in the home of a good friend in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, on Sunday 16th November.

Georja Umano, Petter and Joyce

The last three days of our visit ended up being much more hectic than planned, mainly because of meetings and press briefings related to our involvement in discussions regarding the future of elephants, including Billy, at LA Zoo. On Tuesday Joyce participated in a press conference arranged by councilman Tony Cardenas of Los Angeles County Council. NBC Los Angeles, CBS Los Angeles and, laist and Fox LA are among the media that have covered the case. The vote was planned for Wednesday, but after 5 intense hours on the floor it has been delayed until the first week of December. (Article in LA Times here) We strongly hope the LA County Council will decide to close the exhibit and send Billy to a sanctuary. An urban zoo cannot offer the space necessary for a such a large, active, social, and intelligent animal as the elephant.
Petter, Joyce and Councilman Tony Cardenas visiting LA Zoo.

We’re extremely grateful for all the support and help we have received during our trip – it’s been exhausting but has also given us lots of new energy. We have made new friends, even some through WildlifeDirect, and hopefully created more compassion for elephants among people that we have met on our way. We look forward to keeping in touch with all of you caring for elephants.


Petter and Joyce

Ringling case delayed

A few hours after Joyce arrived in Washington DC she got the message that the court case mentioned in last posting is delayed, and that it may be set to spring 2009. Flying from Norway to Washington and back in 3 days isn’t the best way to spend a long weekend – but not much to do…

Joyce in court in Washington DC

Having been prepared for 8 years the lawsuit against Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Feld Entertainment (Ringling Brothers) for violations of the U.S. Endangered Species Act, is finally going to trial starting Monday, 27 October, 2008. The suit is brought by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, The Animal Welfare Institute, The Fund for Animals, The Animal Protection Institute, and a former Ringling Brothers’ employee, Tom Rider, who worked as a barn man with the elephants for two and a half years.

Joyce is an expert witness in the trial for the plaintiffs and is scheduled to testify on Monday. The case is being heard in federal court in Washington DC, in courtroom 24A, and is expected to last for approximately three weeks. The court proceedings are open to the public.

Wherever they are – elephants need our support

TheTeach has inspired me to post a few reflections based on our post Elephant welfare – how much do we care?, and her comments afterwards. What each and one of us have to do is to decide what we believe in – which values we want to stand and fight for – which attitudes we want to show towards other creatures like elephants.  But we in the industrialized world can afford to think like this. In many poor countries millions of people have a different reality in their everyday life – they’re struggling to survive. Human-elephant conflicts and destruction of habitat often symbolizes  that we’re not able to accept certain limitations in terms of resources and land – and that local politicians and the global community not have been able to find the balance between the needs of people and other animals. Bad governance, corruption and lack of land use planning and/or it’s implementation are often strongly contributing factors, but let me not go into that. It’s “unpolitical” to talk about the lack of political drive worldwide to discuss and deal with the human population growth, but from my perspective this topic will have to come higher on the agenda if we want to keep elephants (and other wildlife) for future generations. Poverty reduction is another key, closely connected to population growth. Elephants are certainly also about tourism and revenue, and thereby work places and economical growth, so in principle we would all gain on conserving them.

Photo from Joyce and Petter visit to Thailand February 2006
OK – let me stay out of more politics for now – and go back to some of TheTeach’s comments. Since Thailand introduced anti-logging laws in 1988/89 many elephants have ended up on the streets with their mahouts. I do agree that many mahouts have a close and compassionate relationship with their elephants, but it is also a fact that the methods used to “break” the elephant to get them to do what’s expected in the first place is brutal and unacceptable from an elephant welfare perspective. Some projects are working on getting street-elephants or abused elephants back to semi wild conditions – we visited one of these projects a couple of years ago. One very interesting aspect with this particular project is that they employ and retrain the mahouts as field staff, to secure them a job and also make the transition for the elephants more easy. Another remark: Thailand probably have around 3,000 captive (so called domesticated) elephants today, and less than 2,000 wild, compared to respectively 11,000 and 30,000 fifty years ago. But such figures and percentages are symbolic for the destiny of the elephant also elsewhere.

Hairy Asian elephant
Asian elephant with hair style like me…

We do agree with TheTeach that there should be more efforts going into elephant protection and conservation in Asia, which is one reason why we are in the process of expanding our scope to include both African and Asian elephants. And we will for sure expand our WD blog to include our new project – so TheTeach and others can follow it.
Male flirting with females in Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka
Male elephant flirting with several females in Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka.

Keep up your efforts TheTeach and others fighting for elephants – they need our help!

Best wishes, Petter

Elephant welfare – how much do we care?

Every day we receive messages about how captive elephants are being treated, often with disturbing photos or video footage. A mission of ElephantVoices is to promote responsibility for securing a kinder future for elephants. Our aim is to do this is primarily through education – by inspiring wonder in the intelligence, complexity and voices of elephants – rather than jumping on one campaign after another. We are a small team and we are not able to take on individual battles for each and every elephant. But sometimes we feel compelled to make our opinions known and below is an example. It’s a letter to journalist, Robert Wilonsky in The Dallas Observer e-mailed today, as a response to his request for Joyce to comment on video footage (linked below) of elephants in Africam Safari Zoo in Mexico where the Dallas Zoo plans to send their elephant Jenny.[kml_flashembed movie="" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Dear Robert

The music is hauntingly beautiful and put to the swaying of confined elephants brought tears to my eyes. Why do we humans feel such a need to confine and control other animals? Is our pleasure in seeing them worth the cruelty that we inflict on them? Elephants are intelligent socially complex individuals who have the same basic needs that we have: Freedom and autonomy, companionship and affection, just to name a few.

The first elephant in the video looks very unhealthy; she is too thin; all of the elephants in the video are swaying – a behavior only seen in confined elephants. Like so many captive elephants they are bored and frustrated with nowhere to go and no one to see, no new smells to investigate and nothing to strive for. The result is standing in one place and rocking, slowly losing their minds. Well, wouldn’t we do the same given similar circumstances? I often try to put myself in the elephants’ shoes, so to speak. Ever had to stand for hours and hours alone waiting for that bus that never comes? Feet and back aching? I, too, start to step from one foot to the other. I, too, rock back and forth, I sway. But I don’t wait for a bus for days, for weeks, for months, for years. I have the freedom to choose to go.

We need to wake up to the reality of what we are doing to other creatures and stop hiding behind a lot of constructed arguments for keeping elephants in this way.

Jenny should go to a sanctuary.

Regards, Joyce Poole

Joyce to DC – Ringling case getting close

In August Joyce will travel to Washington DC to give her deposition in the case against Ringling Brothers for its treatment of elephants. Preparations have taken literally months of work. Joyce is also likely to go back in October when the court case takes place.
The basis for all of the contributions we make toward the interests of elephants is our long term studies of wild elephants. Some people try to argue that elephants held captive are different from wild elephants because they are domesticated. There are two uses of the term domesticated – one meaning “of the household” and the other a biological one. It is the biological one that is important and in this sense there is no such thing as domesticated elephants. All species of modern elephants are capable of being – and routinely have been – habituated and tamed by humans. They remain, nevertheless, wild animals.

The traditional bullhook used to control an elephant in Thailand (Photo credit Robert Poole). ElephantVoices’ standpoint is that this instrument contributes to misery for elephants held captive, for with it elephants are trained and controlled.