It's no secret that many wild animals live longer than their captive counterparts. Recently, a 103-year-old orca whale was spotted swimming in the wild -- far older than SeaWorld's estimate that orcas in the wild live 25 to 35 years. So what about elephants, one of the most beloved -- and mistreated -- captive animals?
One 2008 study compiled a massive dataset of 4500 elephants over 45 years in European zoos and compared their life spans with the median life expectancy of elephants in preserves in the countries they would live in naturally. The researchers found that elephants in European zoos have about half the median lifespan of members of the same species in protected populations in range countries.
As the study's lead author, Dr. Georgia Mason of the University of Guelph, told The Dodo, "the question we were asking is, 'are zoos doing as well as they should, given their animals are protected from poaching and drought' etc., not 'how do zoos compare to all wild elephants?'"
Specifically, the findings showed that for African elephants, the median lifespan for zoo-born females is 17 years, compared to 56 years for a protected, free-living population of their counterparts. For Asian elephants, the median age for zoo-born females was 19 years, while the median age for corresponding females in protected timber camps was 42. There is not sufficient data to make these comparisons for males.
There are lots of factors that make this data simply a slice of the whole, but they are still a metric to look at the survivorship of zoo elephants.
Some critics of this study argue that the standard of welfare has improved since the study's dataset began, and that elephant life expectancy -- and welfare -- changes dramatically from zoo to zoo. But in a companion paper to the study, Mason writes:
Results typically suggest that zoo elephants could have had, or currently may have, poorer welfare than benchmark populations ... Results typically suggest that zoo elephants could have had, or currently may have, poorer welfare than benchmark populations.
GIF via Stephen Messenger [rebelmouse-frontpage https://www.rebelmouse.com/theunzoo/]