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Just when you thought you’d heard it all, stressed elephants at Warsaw zoo will now be given marijuana.

The Warsaw zoo has said it will start giving three African elephants medical marijuana as part of a pilot project to test how it reduces their stress levels. The elephants will be given liquid doses of a high concentration of the cannabinoid CBD through their trunks. The zoo has said it will take around two years before any conclusive results can be obtained from these tests, after which the experiment could then be “tried with other animals living in captivity.”

“In the last decade, zoos across the world have turned to antidepressants, tranquilizers and even antipsychotic drugs to ease behavioral problems in animals. A little Valium here and there to calm frayed nerves, or some Prozac to quiet the jitters. Instead of drugging a captive wild animal to reduce its stress levels, the world should be focused on shutting zoos down permanently. Elephants don’t belong in man-made prisons – they never have and they never will,” said NFA’s David Barritt.

“We recognize this ‘project’ as yet another example of why zoo settings are so damaging for animals. Elephants are just one of many species suffering in captivity around the world – forced to live in zoos and exploited in every single way. It is completely acceptable to dominate animals in the name of entertainment. We absolutely condemn the confinement of elephants, which causes them enormous stress and constitutes cruelty.”

Elephants are known for their exceptional emotional depth, cooperative nature, and great intelligence. Elephants have the capacity for self-awareness, empathy, and grief. These emotionally complex creatures communicate across vast distances, roam up to fifty miles a day in the wild, and have strong and enduring familial bonds. Their natural needs can never be met inside the walls of a zoo enclosure.

The Journal of African Elephants highlights disturbing manifestations of zoo-elephant psychosis including the high incidence of stillbirths and reproductive disorders among pregnant mothers. Even when births are successful, there are often instances not only of infant mortality but also of calf rejection and infanticide, something almost never witnessed in thousands of studies of wild elephant herds. The physical ailments that afflict captive elephants, from foot sores and infections, joint disorders and a high incidence of tuberculosis, have been well known for years. Every early death is another piece of evidence that these 8,000-pound (3,625-kilogram) proboscideans don't belong behind bars. African elephants in the wild live more than double the 17-year life span of zoo elephants.

Yet, despite mounting evidence that elephants find captivity torturous, zoos still acquire them from Africa. There’s always some or other excuse as to why elephants have to be plucked from their homes. Arguably, one of the most popular excuses put forward to justify the keeping of elephants in zoos is that they contribute to the conservation of the species. In fact, zoos have contributed little to the conservation of either African or Asian elephants since they were first brought into captivity. The bottom line is that zoos keep elephants because of greed – and greed alone. Elephants bring paying visitors through the gates.

NFA has long called for phasing out zoo elephants and remains committed to ending zoos. We call on the world to stop pretending that elephants can thrive in captivity. Because we all know, they cannot.


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