Plotnik argues that expecting elephants to pay attention to a random blotch on their face may not have been the best test of their self-awareness anyhow. Whereas chimpanzees are fastidious groomers that spend hours picking nits and gnats out of one another’s hair, elephants stay clean by getting dirty, routinely spraying themselves with dust and dirt to deter insects and parasites. And they love to galumph in mud. “There’s no reason to think elephants would have same kind of vanity," Plotnik says.
Brains behind bars All the new evidence of elephant intelligence has intensified the debate about whether to continue keeping the creatures in captivity. Former elephant caretaker Dan Koehl maintains a thorough database of elephants around the world. He has records of 7,828 elephants currently in captivity: 1,654 in zoos or safari parks; 4,549 in "elephant camps" where tourists can ride the animals; 288 in circuses; and the remaining in temples, sanctuaries or private residences.
Thank you, T. W. Thank you.
The latest research on the well-being of U.S. zoo elephants is not particularly encouraging. With mny collaborators, animal welfare expert and Vistalogic, Inc., consultant Cheryl Meehan recently completed a gint study on nearly all of the 300 or so elephants in North American zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The researchers assessed the physical and mental health of captive elephants with a combination of photographs, videos, blood and hormone tests, veterinary reports, and surveys filled out by caretakers: about 75 percent of the elephants were overweight or obese; between 25 and 40 percent had foot or joint problems of some kind depending on the year; and 80 percent displayed behavioral tics, such as pacing and continual head bobbing or swaying.