Over 600 elephants are currently held in captivity across Europe.  Of these, over 30 are held in solitary confinement. Alongside the harrowing stories of cruelty and neglect, there are many of compassionate carers who simply lack the space and financial resources to alleviate the phsyical and psychological suffering caused by decades of confinement. 

Elephants in circuses

Elephants held in circuses are most urgently in need of help. There are about 50 elephants held in circuses across Europe. Most EU Member States have adopted national legislation to restrict the use of wild animals in circuses, and shifting public opinion is further driving a decline in the industry. Options for owners are limited. Elephants represent the biggest challenge for governments wishing to carry out confiscations due to the lack of suitable sanctuary space.    

Elephants in zoos

The two European zoo associations, EAZA and, in the UK, BIAZA, recognise that elephants are amongst those animals that suffer the most in captivity. Whilst there are efforts to address issues such as high rates of infant mortality, short lifespans and disease that are associated with confinement, there is little progress.  Zoos are increasingly choosing to phase out their elephant collections on the grounds that they cannot meet elephant needs in the small enclosures they can provide. 

Lack of sanctuary space

Zoos, circuses, and governments in Africa, Asia and the Americas that wish to rehome their resident elephants have a number of good, spacious sanctuaries of several hundred hectares to choose from. Unfortunately in Europe, this is not the case.  There is currently only one elephant sanctuary in France that has capacity for just six Asian females. 

Scientific research

The last 20 years of scientific study has highlighted how expansive, diverse habitats are critical to keeping these uniquely sentient, intelligent beings physically and psychologically healthy.  This body of research has informed Pangea’s approach to providing sanctuary for elephants rehomed from Europe’s zoos and circuses.  

“Thankfully, we now have a much deeper understanding of the needs of elephants and we have a choice about how to care for them. They need to be in the company of their own kind to build lasting relationships, and they need space to live their lives.”
Attenborough & the Giant Elephant (2017)