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In 1994 Zurich Zoo initiated the development of a new management programme for their Asian elephants Elephas maximus. Previously elephants had been tethered by foot chains overnight, which imposed restrictions on some of their behaviour. Because the group was socially stable and a new barrier was designed and utilized, the elephants could be untethered and allowed to move freely within their enclosure. The effects of untethering are described and discussed against the background of the existing debate about the two contrasting methods of elephant care, ‘free contact’ and ‘protected contact’.