Frequently Asked Question

Don’t zoos hedge against extinction through captive breeding programs?

For many years, zoos (and circuses) relied primarily on importation from the wild to sustain their captive population. In recent years, public opinion and the protection of Asian and African elephants under CITES Appendix I and II has made it difficult for zoos and circuses to import elephants from the wild.* As a result they now rely almost entirely on captive breeding.

At this stage, captive populations are in decline. Far from being able to produce individuals to reintroduce to the wild, zoos are not able to maintain their own populations. If elephants are allowed adequate space and better conditions overall, we believe that captive breeding programs will be more successful. So in a sense, zoo professionals who are fighting against the movement toward sanctuary-sized elephant exhibits are shooting themselves in the foot – if, that is, hedging against extinction is a genuine reason for keeping elephants in zoos.

But, let’s say that zoos were able to breed elephants successfully. Do a few individuals in captivity really mean that we have succeeded in preventing extinction? Would it be acceptable to have a population of elephants outside their native habitat? Do we want elephants roaming about continental United States or Europe?