Joyce Poole has spent most of her life documenting the behavior of elephants; she has, as National Geographic put it, decoded their language. Which is why, in 2002, she was asked to offer her expert opinion about a captive elephant named Arna, whose companion had died. Activists trying to pry Arna away from the circus asked Poole to testify about why the elephant was rocking back and forth. As it turns out, she noted, such behavior ...
"... is typical of captive elephants but is not seen in free-ranging elephants. This behavior is most common in individuals who are bored or agitated. Arna exhibited this behavior on and off throughout the video sequence but the vigour with which she performed it increased after the departure of the three elephants."
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Late last year, Arna eventually crushed her handler to death and was sent to a zoo. I mention this because after the jump, there are two high-quality videos Angela Hunt brought back from the Africam Safari Zoo in Mexico, where Dallas Zoo officials are sending Jenny the elephant. (Hunt, of course, prefers The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.) And in both videos, all three elephants in captivity at Africam exhibit the same kind of behavior. I also forwarded the video to several elephant experts around the world, including Poole, who has yet to respond. Also after the jump, a note from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal's Director of Captive Animal Rescue and Enforcement, Debbie Leahy, who's seen the videos and who, in 2007, was instrumental in getting two elephants, Nicholas and Gypsy, moved to a California sanctuary following years of protracted litigation. --Robert Wilonsky
From Debbie Leahy:
This video is very sad. The swaying is a sign of anxiety. It also appears that there's hotwire to prevent the elephants from accessing more lush, green areas. That gives the zoo visitor the illusion that the elephants are in a more natural habitat. And I'm not seeing any shade structures, although I don't know if the video captures the entire enclosure. Elephants are susceptible to sunburn and must have shade structures large enough to accommodate all elephants at the same time.
I've attached some documents about stereotypic behavior in elephants: One discusses the Phoenix Zoo's attempts to reduce stereotypic behavior.
Another, written by the Oakland Zoo, states, "Stereotypic swaying, pacing and head bobbing are signs of anxiety, stress and /or boredom (Kieper, 1969; Laule, 1993; Weiss, 1968). We consider the amount of stereotypic activity the elephants engage in to be a direct measure of wellbeing."