25 May 2011 - Despite strong opposition from some of the world's most respected elephant experts the Auckland Council has voted in favour of Auckland Zoo's proposal to import two young female Asian elephants. The decision has angered and disappointed SAFE, WSPA and the RNZSPCA who are unanimous in their concern for the welfare of the elephants.

The Mayor says the decision is an important step as the new Auckland implements its strategy to become an events capital and a destination rather than a gateway.

"It's also great news for Auckland's children," says Len Brown. "Few of us get the chance to see these majestic animals in the wild and it's great to be able to experience these wonderful creatures up close in a world class zoo environment."

SAFE campaign director Eliot Pryor gave a short presentation to the Auckland Council to highlight SAFE's concerns. He said the Auckland Zoo proposal to have an elephant herd was not feasible and more likely to become a cruel ‘white elephant' if approved. He criticised the mayor's position that this was great news for children.

"What is the message is being given to the new generations? They will see that the needs of people once again come before the conservation of a highly endangered species. To remove these magnificent animals from their native land and put them into a restricted space, with inadequate social grouping, with consequent health problems seems to be acceptable," says Eliot.

"In effect, the decision to import elephants into Auckland was maneuvered by Auckland Zoo, which provided a financial plan that gave just two options: either import more elephants and revenues will go up, or send Burma away and revenues will go down," says Eliot. "The zoo provided no feasible alternative other than to have elephants."

A consortium of top international elephant experts including Dr Cynthia Moss, Dr Joyce Poole and Dr Keith Lindsay backed  SAFE, WSPA and the RNZSPCA, New Zealand's top three leading animal charities. An extract of a letter signed by these scientists and other experts to the mayor and councillors, read:

"After lengthy and careful consideration, we are convinced that removing elephants from Sri Lanka at this time, whatever the motives, is not helpful in any way to securing better outcomes for elephants in that island nation. The sense, in much of Asia, that elephants can be treated as livestock, as commodities, works actively against efforts to promote elephant welfare and conservation. On these grounds alone we urge the council not to support Auckland Zoo's plans."

What you can do?

Have your say. Write to the NZ Herald or your local paper to express your dismay and let the Auckland Council know of your disapproval. 


Based on Auckland Zoo's figures operating costs will be over $9 million over the next 8 years, and then a new enclosure will be needed with further capital investment. Also decisions will need to be taken on how future obligations to provide a breeding programme will be met. The associated costs involved in those different scenarios have been avoided in the proposal and described as ‘long-term' planning, though it will be within the next 10 years.

Projection of increased visitor numbers of 20 per cent are based on best case scenarios and ignore a range of different risks. Overseas experience has shown visitor increases from the introduction of new elephants to be transitory and cannot be relied on. Auckland Zoo has had elephants for a number of years and the introduced elephants may provide just a brief fascination.

Public support
Auckland Zoo relies for community support on a survey saying 84 per cent of the public think the zoo should keep elephants. SAFE accepts that the public has an emotional connection to elephants, but this should not mean that incarceration in a zoo is the best course of action

Sri Lanka
The elephant facility in Sri Lanka where the animals are coming from are not in need of new homes. The facility was originally set up as an orphanage, but is now owned by the national zoo, and is a tourist draw card. The main problems facing wild elephants are human-elephant conflicts and pressure on their natural habitat. As pointed out in the May 2011 letter by experts to Auckland Council, the situation is complex, and the Auckland Zoo proposal has no conservation benefits.

Expert opinion
Recommendations to the Auckland Council to send Burma to another facility have been made by concerned international experts. These include a number of professional and conservative organisations such as the SPCA, RSPCA UK, Humane Society International, and WSPA.

A single elephant management consultant whose experience is limited to working within zoos has enlisted support for the Auckland Zoo proposal. He is not an elephant behavioural scientist. His praise for the Auckland Zoo should be taken in the context that he is not an independent critic. Also his glowing appraisal was based on previous plans of expansion of the facilities and a breeding programme, and not the keeping of three female elephants as a group.

The proposal to exhibit just three female elephants is in fact contrary to the guidelines of the Zoo and Aquarium Association of Australasia itself, of which Auckland Zoo is a member. The guidelines state that any facility-keeping elephants must have a minimum of four cow elephants in order to provide a basic social life.

Inadequate welfare
Good welfare in zoos depends on continual enrichment programs and attempts to replicate a natural environment, which can never be properly achieved. The RSPCA UK in 2010 called for the phase out of elephants in zoos, saying that "recent research has shown that they were suffering from severe welfare problems, which range from lameness and obesity to obsessive behaviour, and that it was inappropriate and cruel to keep them in confinement."


May 2011 - Auckland City Council will decide the fate of three Asian elephants today. After two years of debate and controversy the Auckland City Council is expected to make a crucial decision whether to allow Auckland Zoo to house more elephants.

Kashin 2New Zealand's leading animal advocates from SAFE, WSPA and the RNZSPCA are unanimous in their concern for the welfare of the elephants. SAFE says Auckland Zoo's proposal to have an elephant herd is not feasible and more likely to be a cruel ‘white elephant'.

The Auckland mayor has received a second letter from a highly respected consortium of the world's leading elephant experts. They remain highly critical of Auckland Zoo's proposal to import two Asian elephants from Sri Lanka to join Burma, the zoo's remaining elephant.

SAFE campaign director, Eliot Pryor, says Auckland Zoo's persistence in trying to develop an elephant herd is likely to result only in expense and serious animal welfare problems.

"While initial costs for transport and quarantine are expected to be $3.2 million, Auckland Zoo admits ongoing costs to be over $9 million over eight years. Spending millions of dollars to keep three elephants captive is ludicrous, particularly when you consider that the entire nation just raised $2.5 million in a telethon to aid those in Christchurch without even homes," says Mr Pryor.


Nov 2010 - SAFE is delighted to hear that prominent international zoologists and some of the worlds most respected elephant experts are appealing to the Auckland Council to rethink plans of importing a herd of elephants to Auckland Zoo.

Over twenty distinguished animal behavourists or international animal advocates have written to the Auckland Council to express their concerns. These include: Will Travers of Born Free Foundation, Dr Joyce Poole of Elephant Voices and Peter Stroud, a zoological consultant, along with representatives of Amboseli Trust for Elephants, RSPCA, Elephant Aid International, In Defense of Animals, International Fund for Animal Welfare and the Humane Society International.

SAFE campaign director, Eliot Pryor, says the newly elected Auckland Council has an obligation to review the former councils decision to support this elephant import proposal in light of this new international testimony.

"SAFE formally presented their concerns and objections to the former council in May 2009. The submission cited many studies, including that of the RSPCA and Humane Society International that demonstrated that captivity was highly detrimental to the welfare of elephants. It also dismissed arguments that Auckland Zoo would adequately contribute to an international elephant breeding or conservation programme. We are delighted that our concerns have been echoed by this team of experts," says Mr Pryor.

Melbourne based, independent zoological consultant Peter Stroud has worked with many zoos to overcome problems associated with keeping elephants in captivity. He was disappointed to hear Auckland Zoo was planning to establish a breeding herd of elephants.

"No urban zoo can cater for the complex needs of elephants. Sound science tells us that elephants are social animals that spend their lives in and around families of closely related individuals, moving across vast areas. Family life cannot be created in a zoo and there is growing evidence that simply placing unrelated elephants together does not simulate natural social life," said Mr Stroud. "Removing elephants from existing zoo programmes will neither assist the sustainability of zoo elephant populations nor assist the welfare of the elephants involved. Existing zoo populations of Asian elephants, internationally, are not self-sustaining because of a combination of insufficient genetic diversity and skewed age structure," he says.

The letter has been sent to the councillors of Auckland Council as well as the Prime Minister, Minister of Local Government and Minister of Conservation.



SAFE says the Auckland City Council should not be supporting Auckland Zoo's proposal to make space for a new elephant herd. Despite opposition, the council gave the green light for the next stage of the proposal which is estimated to cost over $13 million.

The Council's Arts, Culture and Recreation Committee met to discuss plans to increase the zoo boundary behind the existing elephant enclosure. SAFE says the committee should have rejected the proposal if it takes the welfare of elephants seriously.

SAFE is surprised that Auckland Zoo remains determined to have elephants when many international zoos have decided against keeping elephants on grounds of animal welfare.

"Many elephant experts and a number of zoos are now of the opinion that zoos cannot provide elephants with sufficient space or facilities and suffer as a result," says SAFE campaign director Hans Kriek.

"Even with the proposed increase of their boundary, Auckland Zoo cannot provide adequate space for these majestic animals. Animal behaviourists argue that elephants suffer tremendously in captivity, as zoos cannot meet the physical, behavioural, psychological and social needs of elephants. Why does Auckland Zoo think it can do any better?" says Mr Kriek.

"It is estimated to be 50 times more expensive to keep an elephant in a zoo than to protect an elephant in the wild. It costs a lot less to maintain the original habitat than to recreate an artificial elephant herd and enclosure in Auckland," says Mr Kriek.

SAFE is concerned about Auckland Zoo's solitary elephant, Burma, and believes the best solution is for her to be relocated to an elephant sanctuary where she can socialize with other elephants.

International animal welfare organisations that oppose the keeping of elephants in captivity include: RSPCA (UK and AUS), Born Free Foundation, World Society for the Protection of Animals, Humane Society International, International Fund for Animal Welfare and US based group PETA.



SAFE presented a comprehensive 12-page submission to the Auckland City Council in opposition to Auckland Zoo seeking to import elephants from Europe. Auckland Zoo wants to establish a herd of 10 elephants and requires $13m of ratepayer funds from the council. Click here to download.



The death of Kashin, Auckland Zoo's 40-year-old elephant, is a timely reminder that elephants do not belong in zoos. Kashin was euthanised after losing her battle with chronic health problems largely caused by being kept in captivity.

Kashin suffered painful arthritis and foot abscesses, problems often associated with elephants kept in zoos. Kashin was a gentle animal and Auckland Zoo's star attraction since 1973. The aging Asian elephant will be missed by many zoo visitors, but her loss will especially be felt by the zoo's staff who have spent many years trying to make her life as bearable as possible. Burma, the sole surviving 26-year-old elephant, will feel Kashin's death even more acutely. Burma will now be a lone elephant at the zoo, a less than desirable situation for such a social creature.

SAFE believes the best option for Burma would be for her to be relocated to either another zoo, or an elephant sanctuary, where she will be able to enjoy the company of her own kind. Auckland Zoo, however, has other plans. The zoo wants to import a number of captive elephants from European zoos to establish a breeding herd.

"It would make far more sense for Auckland Zoo to find a better home for Burma and use the freed up space at the zoo to provide better conditions for some of their other animals," says SAFE campaign director Hans Kriek.

"Kashin's premature death is sadly all too typical for an elephant held captive at a zoo. Research shows that most captive elephants die at a much younger age than their wild counterparts."

A recent RSPCA (UK) report totally refutes the zoo industry's arguments that elephants need to be in captivity for 'conservation' purposes. The World Wide Fund For Nature and the African Elephant Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature have concluded that captive breeding does not contribute significantly to elephant conservation. The funds spent on captive zoo elephants should be spent on protecting elephants in their natural habitat. The RSPCA (UK) says that keeping elephants in zoos can be up to 50 times more expensive than conserving free-roaming elephants in the wild.

"Burma's immediate future looks lonely and bleak," says Hans. "She is expected to live alone for the next two years unless relocated to another zoo, as MAF has stated that under current legislation it would take two years for other elephants to be imported."


Jumbo - finding a home at the zoo?

SAFE met with zoo management early this year to discuss the possibility of the zoo taking Jumbo, the country's sole remaining circus elephant.

"There is also little chance that Jumbo will ever be transferred to Auckland Zoo to keep Burma company. We have been told that the zoo is not interested in Jumbo as she does not fit within the zoo's plans to establish a breeding herd of Asian elephants. Sadly, we now have two solitary and very lonely elephants in our country," says Hans.

SAFE continues to call for an end to the keeping of elephants in both circuses and zoos, and it hopes that Kashin's death will be a catalyst for a more enlightened stance by Auckland Zoo.

"The zoo now has the chance to show that the welfare of elephants is more important to them than their crowd-attracting potential and to join the growing number of international zoos that no longer keep elephants in captivity," says Hans. 


Orana Park big cat encounters challenged

Following in the footsteps of Wellington Zoo's personal encounters with cheetahs, Christchurch's Orana Park has begun inviting people into some of their big cat enclosures. Visitors can now get to experience the zoo's pair of Sumatran tigers, Sendiri and Dumai as well as their cheetahs Gizmo and Gemma. Visitors pay for either the experience of handling and patting the animals or entering the big cats's den area so they can view the animals from behind a mesh fence.

In an article in the Christchurch Press, Orana Park chief executive Lynn Anderson cites conservation as the main motivation for launching their new close encounter experiences. Meanwhile, SAFE campaign director Hans Kriek said these encounters are an accident waiting to happen.

"If something went wrong and an animal became frightened or if something unexpected were to happen the animal could only flee or attack," he said.

Hans said SAFE did not agree with the view asserted by the zoo that allowing people to have direct contact with the animals would help raise awareness of the plight of that species.

"Do you have to pat the animal to understand how it lives in the wild? It is little more than a money-making exercise. SAFE is seeing animals being treated more and more as something commercial."

Wellington Zoo under scrutiny


Wellington Zoo continues to come under scrutiny. Firstly it was from SAFE condemning the zoo's foolish rent-a-cheetah programme. Then came the whistle-blowing staff alleging unprovoked animal attacks, animal abuse and poor management. Finally, the zoo's cheetah programme was further criticised by two international zoo experts. SAFE has managed to attract considerable media attention as a result, putting the zoo further under the spotlight.

The zoo's rent-a-cheetah programme allows the cheetahs to be released and attend public events such as store openings and private functions. The zoo charges around $2,500 per visit and claims that the visits have educational and conservation values. "If the zoo truly believed that these off-site visits would enhance the conservation of species, they would do it for free," says SAFE campaign director Hans Kriek.

SAFE accused the zoo of being irresponsible and said the use of cheetahs as objects of entertainment was deplorable. "SAFE believes that Wellington Zoo is acting unethically. Visits like this put the animals and the public at risk as the animals are taken into situations where unpredictable things can happen. Should a cheetah get frightened, no handler would be able to control it, people could get bitten and the animal could escape and end up being shot," says Hans.

SAFE was delighted to have its concerns validated from within the international zoo community. In an article published in the Dutch newspaper Friesch Dagblad, Wijbren Landman and Bas Lukkenaar, spokesmen for two leading zoos in Holland, said the programme showed little respect for the animals and was not educational.

"We are completely opposed. We would never do something like that. Actions like this demand that the animals are very tame and we strive to keep them as wild as possible. We don't allow keepers between the animals, let alone strangers. It's not educational either," says Mr Landman.



media clip

April 2013

NZ Herald Cathy Casey: Burma - the elephant in the room 

December 2012

NZ Herald Controversy over big baby's future

Seattle Times Part 2: Elephant havens face zoo-industry backlash

Seattle Times Part 1: Elephants are dying out in America's zoos

April 2012

Stuff No mates for Burma



Sunday Star Times  Zoo staunch on elephant ambitions

Central Leader  New zoo plan gives park land reprieve

NZ Herald  The jumbo question: For or against Auckland's new elephants?

TV One  Aucklanders reassured over cost of elephants

TV3  Auckland Zoo to get two new elephants

Campbell Live  Auckland Zoo prepare for two new elephants

TV One Zoo gets more elephants

NZPA  Zoo to get two companions for elephant Burma

Radio NZ  Auckland Council says yes to $3.2m elephants

NZ Herald  New elephants for Auckland zoo approved

Stuff  Auckland Zoo allowed to import Kashin replacements

TV One  Zoo gets money for new elephants

TV One  Council discusses Auckland Zoo getting friends for Burma

Newstalk ZB  Discussions underway for companions for Burma

NZ City Discussions underway for companions for Burma

NZPA  Uproar over elephants

SAFE media release 

Radio NZ Elephant import plan queried

NZ Herald Two new elephants too big to keep secret

Radio NZ  Auckland Council reduces planned number of elephants for zoo

Stuff  Two friends for lonely Auckland elephant

Sunday Star Times A Jumbo case of depression

Central Leader  Elephant herd still uncertain

NZ Herald Editorial: Drop the elephant expansion plan

TV3  Zoo's elephant plan should be stopped - Wildlife expert

The Aucklander No trunk call: Herd of wildlife experts scorn Auckland Zoo's elephant park

SAFE and WSPA media release   International protest over Auckland elephant import

NZ Herald - Herd project 'driven by gate takings'

TV1 -  Money assigned for elephant enclosure

NZ Herald -  City puts up $13m for elephants in the bush

Auckland Harbour news - Elephant herd not welcome

WATCH TV1 news story

WATCH Campbell Live

NZ Herald -  Elephant-herd idea cruel plan to make money

NZ Herald - Is Western Springs any place for a herd of elephants?

Radio NZ - International opposition to elephant expansion plan

NZ Herald -  Herd of elephants planned for expanded zoo

TV One - Elephant extension ignites debate

TV3 - New elephant herd at Auckland Zoo 'unethical'

Close Up - SAFE campaign director debates the merit of keeping elephants at the Auckland Zoo. (click on chapter 2)

TV3 news - SAFE argues for Burma's release in wake of Kashin's death

Herald on Sunday -  Paul Holmes: Mankind has much to learn from wild animals

NZPA - SAFE opposes Auckland Zoo's elephant plan

NZ Herald - Little gifts to farewell Kashin the elephant

TVNZ - A record crowd says goodbye to Kashin


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