Captive elephants - an overview

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H.S. Riddle
C. Stremme


Currently a significant portion of the world’s elephant population is in captivity, mainly in Asia. Elephants have a long history of captivity in both Africa and Asia, and have adapted to many environments. Today, due to evolving needs and philosophies, some changes have occurred in the use of captive elephants, and debate about their welfare and management is increasing. To address this, several countries are developing higher standards of care via policies and guidelines; unfortunately most elephant range countries do not have a national strategy concerning their captive elephant population. Challenges in elephant medicine are always present, yet there is a lack of standardized requirements for veterinary care in elephant range countries, and the ability of veterinarians to treat elephant diseases is often limited. In recent years, much has been learned about elephant physiology, biology, and communication from captive elephants, and this knowledge supports management decisions affecting both captive and wild populations. Captive elephants present important educational and fundraising opportunities in support of conservation, but these are often not fully leveraged. Future considerations include implementing changes to improve staff support and training, establishing comprehensive registration of all captive populations, and ensuring that captive management does not negatively impact wild elephant populations.

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How to Cite
Riddle, H. and Stremme, C. 2011. Captive elephants - an overview. Journal of Threatened Taxa. 3, 6 (Jun. 2011), 1826–1836. DOI:
Author Biographies

H.S. Riddle

Heidi S. Riddle is co-founder of Riddle’s Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary, USA. She facilitates elephant conservation via education and study, and advises conservation organizations. She is a member of IUCN SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group, and Conservation Breeding Specialist Group.

C. Stremme

Christopher Stremme is a veterinarian active in elephant care and management. He is program director of the Veterinary Society for Sumatran Wildlife Conservation (VESSWIC) Elephant Health Care Program, overseeing the medical care of wild and captive Sumatran elephants. He consults with elephant programs throughout Asia and in western facilities.

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