for National Geographic News
Wild elephants in protected areas of Africa and Asia live more than twice as long as those in European zoos, a new study has found.
Animal welfare advocates have long clashed with zoo officials over concerns about the physical and mental health of elephants in captivity.
British and Canadian scientists who conducted the six-year study say their finding puts an end to that debate once and for all.
"We're worried that the whole system basically doesn't work and improving it is essential," said lead author Georgia Mason, a zoologist at the University of Guelph in Canada.
Obesity and stress are likely factors for the giant land mammals' early demise in captivity, she said.
Until these problems are resolved, the authors are calling for a halt to importing wild elephants and breeding them in facilities unless an institution can guarantee long, healthy lives for its elephants. The study will be published tomorrow in the journal Science.
(Related: "Zoo Life Shortens Elephant Lives in Europe, Study Says" [October 25, 2002].)
Wild and Long-Lived
Mason and colleagues looked at data from more than 4,500 wild and captive African and Asian elephants.
The data include elephants in European zoos, which house about half of the world's captive elephants; protected populations in Amboseli National Park in Kenya; and the Myanma Timber Enterprise in Myanmar (Burma), a government-run logging operation where Asian elephants are put to work.
Only the survival rates of females were analyzed because of their importance to future populations.
The findings show that captive elephants live considerably shorter lives.
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