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Keywords:

  • Asian elephant;
  • Elephas maximus;
  • Indonesia;
  • zoos;
  • loans;
  • conservation

Abstract

Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in western zoos are likely to become extinct unless elephants are regrouped into breeding units or additional elephants are imported from range States. There have been proposals for the export of elephants from elephant camps in Sumatra, Indonesia. In exchange, zoos would be expected to provide funds or support ‘in kind’ for the camps or for the conservation of wild elephants. Most of the elephants in the Sumatran camps were captured because of crop-raiding problems around protected areas or because elephant habitat has been and continues to be lost to development schemes and illegal conversion of protected areas to agriculture. Capture-related mortality rates are high and conditions in the camps are poor, with low standards of veterinary care and husbandry. This is partly due to over-crowding and inadequate budgets. It might seem, therefore, that the loan of elephants to western zoos would improve the lot of these elephants and reduce the pressures on the camps. However, we show that both total and annual demand for Asian elephants, and particularly Sumatran elephants (E. m. sumatranus), by western zoos are low, and consequently the resources generated by any loan scheme would be limited. Elephant loan schemes are unlikely to have significant beneficial impact on either the conservation or welfare of elephants in Sumatra. More importantly, a credible loan scheme would require a permanent moratorium on the capture of wild elephants in Sumatra. Such a moratorium is needed to prevent illicit captures for sale or loan. At present, wild elephants are caught to replace those that die at the camps or are moved to other facilities. Without a moratorium, the loan of elephants to overseas zoos would contribute directly to reductions in wild elephant populations in Sumatra. However, a moratorium is likely to prove impossible to enforce, and this alone should call into question the desirability of any loan scheme. Zoo Biol 25:235–246, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.