Book Review Documentation 2002

In the International Zoo News (IZN Vol. 51/7, No. 336, 2004), a magazine for the exchange of news, information and ideas between the zoos and aquariums of the word, Editor Nicholas Gould made the following review of the Documentation 2002:

by Joachim Endres, Alexander and Beate Haufellner, Jürgen und Monika Schilfarth, and Georg Schweiger, translated by Mauvis Gore. European Elephant Group, 2004. 214 pp., 40 photos, ringbound paperback (A4 size). Available from Schüling Verlag, Falkenhorst 4, 48155 Münster, Germany ( ; Tel. 0049 251 311523; Fax 0049 251 311524), price Euro 38.00 incl. postage.

Since 1993 the European Elephant Group (EEG), an association of enthusiasts (largely but not exclusively German), have published a number of methodically researched monographs on captive elephants, providing the essential statistical groundwork – history, numbers, imports, breeding records, keeping systems etc. – on which any generalisations about these popular, charismatic and controversial animals should be based. Their latest book, the first to appear in English, present the most comprehensive data available anywhere on elephants in Europe from 1946 to the end of 2003, with details on 1,450 animals, living and dead, and 138 current facilities.

The second half of the book consists of ten appendices in which these data are tabulated, embodying in a more concise form much of the material contained in the EEG’s earlier publications. This accumulation of facts is of more than merely academic interest. The EEG, while not opposed to the keeping of elephants in zoos, is dedicated to the improvement of the conditions in which they are kept. So they use their statistics to support recommendations on husbandry going beyond the existing EAZA guidelines (which most European zoos rely on, but which the EEG finds unacceptable). For example, the statistics show that 8.7% of deaths from known causes resulted from falls into dry moats, and draw the reasonable conclusion, that such moats should be banned from all elephant exhibits.

The first half of Documentation 2002 is devoted to the welfare argument and consists of a detailed critique of A Review of the Welfare of Zoo Elephants in Europe. This report, published in 2002 by the Animal Behaviour Research Group of Oxford University’s Department of Zoology, was commissioned by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), who subsequently summarised – and to some extent distorted – its findings in a pamphlet with the provocative title Live Hard, Die Young – How Elephants Suffer in Zoos. (Both publications have already been criticised in IZN [50 (2), 86-90] by Paul Rees.) It is interesting to note that the Oxford study’s authors were Ros Clubb and Georgia Mason, whose more recent thoughts on wide-ranging animals in zoos sparked a series of editorials in IZN [50 (7), 393-4; 51 (1), 3-5; 51 (2), 70-71].

Lack of space prevents my going through the EEG’s comments in detail, but their report marshals an impressive body of evidence to demolish about 50 examples of Clubb and Mason’s claims, with the damning conclusion that, `the opinions and assertions … in the Oxford study are demonstrably false, falsified, contradictory or incompetent.` Documentation 2002 is essential reading for everyone involved with, or interested in, zoo elephants. Its authors show that passionate concern for the well-being of elephants is fully compatible with a determination to continue keeping them in our zoos.

Nicholas Gould