They are questioning our care of the animals and ‘training methods’ as our elephants engage in painting activities at Perth Zoo as part of the Zoo’s environmental enrichment program. Let us reassure you that our animal care staff are amongst the most skilled in the world. They are highly trained and committed individuals and as such we apply the most up to date animal welfare practices and animal enrichment activities. Our elephants are not forced to participate in painting or other activities. As a modern conservation based zoo, such practices are completely contradictory to how we work with our elephants and our commitment to animal welfare.
The painting done at the Zoo is an extension of the drawing and scribbling behaviours conducted by elephants in the wild. It is not done for human entertainment or profit for the Zoo. The painting activities have been closely assessed using the Five Domains of Animal Welfare (an animal care tool) and it has been assessed as a beneficial and positive experience. It keeps the elephants stimulated and all our elephants express enthusiasm and a keen interest in painting activities.
Our present Perth elephant keepers have been working with our elephants for more than 14 years. They know each of the elephants individually, so know their preferences, their temperaments and they know when the elephants are enjoying something, frightened or nervous. They spend more time with these animals than they do with own friends and family. The relationship between our keepers and elephants is one built on mutual trust and respect. The keepers have noted that the elephants will regularly leave their food to come over and do paintings and the female elephants will often try to pick which painting they are going to carry out, waiting next to the board ready to go. The elephants are exceptionally focused when they are painting and thrive on the interaction they have with the keepers during these times.
The proceeds of the paintings go directly into conservation projects that Perth Zoo supports including protecting wild elephants in the Bukit Tigapuluh region of Sumatra. More information can be found here.
Additionally, we do not use ‘bullhooks’ as is being claimed. The elephant guides our staff use do not have a sharp point, but are blunted, and are used as a directional tool when needed. The welfare and care of our animals is always our number one priority.
Elephants are long-lived and the elephants at Perth Zoo have lived in human care for decades. As their custodians, we employ experts in animal welfare and animal care. We are dedicated to providing the best life possible for the elephants who call Perth Zoo home.