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Keywords:

  • elephant;
  • importation;
  • range country;
  • conservation;
  • science;
  • education;
  • ethics;
  • legal requirements;
  • opposition;
  • feasibility

Abstract

Zoo elephant populations are in serious demographic peril. Advances in elephant management and care are expected to lead to improved reproductive success. The existing cohort of reproductively viable adult females is aging, however, and effective changes may not come fast enough to sustain the population over time. If so, importation of captive, semi-domesticated, and wild elephants from range countries may be necessary for zoo programs to survive. Yet, due to the high profile elephants now have with animal rights activists, there may be increasing legal and political barriers to elephant importation. This makes it especially important that zoos become more proactive in addressing remaining weaknesses in elephant management and care and building the case for elephants in zoos. This article summarizes the key considerations for AZA-accredited zoos that are contemplating future importations. These include ethical, legal, practical, public relations, and other considerations. The authors strongly recommend that zoos position themselves for possible future importations immediately instead of waiting until the last minute. It is equally critical that zoos recognize their existing vulnerabilities and attempt to address them proactively; only then, can they take control of their own fate and reduce the potential for later regret. Zoo Biol 25:219–233, 2006. © 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.