Born Into a Broken Home

Posted by on September 13, 2013 | Permalink

Reading the story of a baby elephant in a Chinese zoo who wept for five hours after his mother twice tried to kill him yesterday almost made us cry, too.

The newborn calf sustained injuries when his mother rejected and kicked him and had to be taken away from her. When zoo workers tried to return him to her enclosure a few hours later, the same thing happened again. It’s a tale of nature gone very wrong, and the blame lies not with the confused mother but with the humans who locked her up and forced her to live her life thousands of miles from her community and native habitat.


Animals in captivity were themselves removed from their mothers and so never learned essential parenting skills. In nature, left alone in peace, elephants are devoted mothers, who keep their children with them their whole lives and are assisted by elephant aunts. They learn how to nurture their young by being cared for themselves by their matriarchal family and by watching other family members’ infants being taught to survive, but when they are taken away from their herd, the lack of normal interaction with other elephants results in social incompetence, thereby affecting the elephants’ ability to recognise and successfully raise their young and perpetuating the cycle of zoo “orphans”.

Another elephant who’s suffered horribly in captivity is Mali, the only elephant in the Manila Zoo. Now 39 years old, she has spent more than 30 years in solitary confinement, without ever even setting eyes on another member of her species. You can join the campaign asking that she be transferred to a sanctuary and live her final years in peace here.

Anyone who is thinking of buying a ticket to a zoo should urgently rethink that decision. Zoo visitors learn nothing that is useful or that instils respect from viewing depressed, frustrated and bored animals in unnatural settings and groups. There’s even a name – “zoochosis” – for the disturbed behaviour of animals in zoos, who often pace up and down or rock back and forth in their enclosures, on the verge of insanity.

Instead, we can respect wildlife by watching any of the fascinating wildlife documentaries available on TV, taking our children to IMAX movies, buying them books on wildlife photography or going with them to natural parks or woodlands – all great ways to teach kids about animals without sentencing the animals to lives in prison.

Image: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals