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Why were the elephants brought here? 

Asian Elephant

Taronga's elephants are here to play a crucial role in a regional breeding & conservation program for Asian Elephants, which are endangered in the wild.

World conservation agencies estimate there are as few as 35,000 - 50,000 left and at the current rate of decline, Asian Elephants could be extinct in the wild within a timespan as short as 20 years.

Conservation breeding programs for endangered animals in zoos aim to retain around 90% of the genetic diversity of the entire species over a 100 year period. The Australasian program has been approved by the Governments of Australia and Thailand, as well as the international CITES organisation.

An integral part of the conservation program is to inform and educate visitors on the threats and dangers to the survival of Asian Elephants and raise funding & support for wild elephant conservation projects in range countries. 

Taronga and Melbourne Zoos have already achieved the successful births of seven elephant calves since the elephants arrived in Australia in November 2006.

Where did they come from?

These elephants were selected from recommended elephant camps throughout Thailand. Prior to coming to Australia they had lived most of their lives in these tourist camps and some had spent time on city streets begging for food and money from tourists. Now they are here in Sydney the group has formed into a strong family unit and are given everything they need to be happy young elephants.

What role do the elephants have in conservation?

Asian Elephants with calves
Asian Elephants with calves Pathi Harn and Luk Chai

Obviously the conservation breeding program is an important contribution.

However an integral part of this conservation program is also informing and educating people about elephants and the threats and dangers to their future survival. If logging, poaching and the clearing of forests by the human population is not addressed then there will be no wild habitat for any elephants.
For many people the elephants at Taronga Zoo may be the only ones they ever get a chance to see. Here they can learn about elephants and what they can do to help them. Donated funds from the public are put towards conservation programs implemented throughout Asia to try and help secure a future for wild Asian Elephants.

Is there enough room at the zoo?

Prior to arriving in Australia our elephants, like many other domestic elephants throughout Asia, had lived much of their lives on a 3 metre long chain. Clearly zoo facilities will not be the same as 'wild' ranges quoted in textbooks but then no captive habitat is.

Used effectively, our zoo facilities provide for the diverse behavioural needs of the elephants. The two elephant exhibits contain deep and shallow swimming pools, mud wallows, sleeping mounds shaded areas, scratching posts and logs and many enrichment items that keep the elephants active and stimulated. In the mornings the elephants and keepers walk around the exhibit paddocks and in the Zoo grounds for exercise and physical activity.
Importantly, a scientific study conducted during 2006-2007 found that Taronga Zoos elephants had an activity profile that closely matched behaviours, exercise and foraging activities of wild elephants.

Elephants: In the wild and in captivity

Asian Elephants swimming.

It's sad to say but for many species there is very little 'wild' left. The view that all elephants should live in 'wild' forests fails to confront the reality of elephant range states today.

The human population explosion in Southeast Asia has resulted in large scale destruction of natural forests for human infrastructure and agricultural plantations. This deforestation has resulted in reduced elephant habitat by approximately 70 percent during the last 30 years. It is estimated that only 35,000 to 50,000 Asian elephants remain in the wild.

Across Asia, large adult males continue to be killed for their ivory tusks and land mines left over from years of human conflict continue to injure and kill wild elephants every year. At the present rate of decline Asian Elephants could be extinct in the wild within a timespan as short as 20 years..

Asian Elephants have worked with humans in captivity for thousands of years. They have been used in wars & battles, religious ceremonies, agriculture, farming & logging practices and more recently in the tourism industry.

Taronga's elephants originated from elephant camps in the tourist industry and now, rather than performing rides or begging on city streets, they are participating in Australia's first co-ordinated breeding & conservation program. Most importantly these elephants are ambassadors that help to inform and educate visitors and the public on the very real dangers and threats to the future survival of Asian Elephants.

Taronga Zoo donates funds to the support of habitat protection programs, efforts to reduce human-elephant conflict as well as funding projects for the monitoring of wild elephant herds to protect them from poaching.

Are the elephants locked up at night?

Absolutely not. Taronga elephants have access to their barn and outside paddocks at night-time. On cooler nights radiant heaters are switched on in their barn and the elephants can choose whether they want to sleep outside or in.

Are the elephants happy here?

Life is now very different for our elephants than what it was a few years ago. Gone are the leg chains and begging on city streets, now replaced with belonging to a family unit for the first time here in Sydney. They have swimming pools, mud wallows, dirt mounds, plenty of attention and interaction and everything they need to be happy young elephants.
The elephants are very active and can express themselves and their personalities through plenty of fun activities and playtime. They are surrounded by a committed and dedicated team of keepers who each have a special bond with our elephant family.

What do you feed the elephants?

The elephants at Taronga have a balanced and varied diet. At a basic level, they are fed four types of hay - Oaten, Rye, Sodex and Lucerne.

In addition to this they consume a pallet of pineapple plants a day. Elephants in camps throughout Thailand are often raised on these pineapple plants due to the high cost of hay. Because Taronga's elephants love the pineapple plants and they provide excellent roughage in their diet, we source our pineapple plants all the way from Queensland.

The elephants are also fed plenty of bamboo, banana palm, cocos palm and an array of fresh fruit and vegetables. The elephants are fed continuously throughout the day and food is scattered throughout the exhibit to encourage natural browsing and foraging behaviour.

Our elephants presently eat approximately 80 - 90kgs a day, however as they get bigger they will consume as much as 150kgs a day.

Why is Gung located in another exhibit?

Gung in water

As young male elephants reach sexual maturity they are driven & pushed out of female dominated herds. Mature bulls live as solitary animals or sometimes in bachelor groups only interacting with the female herds to breed. This is part of the normal life cycle for all young males and for elephant families and the time has come for Gung to go to his new home.

For the last few months that Gung was with the female herd, he constantly harassed the cows and challenged the matriarch Porntip, sparring energetically with her and Pak Boon.

For the last few months that Gung was with the female herd, he constantly harassed the cows and challenged the matriarch Porntip, sparring energetically with her and Pak Boon.

This sparring and jousting was becoming more intense and forceful as females who were not cycling or already pregnant tried to wrestle him off and this type of attention from a young boisterous male was starting to be resented by our female group.

It was vital to the future of the breeding program that a specialised facility was built for him.

Gung's new home has a large heated barn with hot & cold water for showers, a mud wallow, two pools (one with water jets to play with), sleeping mound, scratching posts, exercise yard and sand pit.  There is a large shade structure and a massive mature fig tree was translocated on the site to provide natural shade.

It is important to note that Gung will not be on his own now he has moved. As well as regular daily contact with keepers who he is bonded to, he will also have regular visits from our female elephants, who will be walked between both sites or moved via a special vehicle during public hours.