Why were the elephants brought here?
Taronga's elephants play a crucial role in a regional breeding and conservation program for Asian Elephants, which are endangered in the wild.
World conservation agencies estimate there are as few as 35,000 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 and 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 elephant camps that were recommended throughout Thailand. Prior to coming to Australia they had lived most of their lives in these tourist or logging camps, although some were taken to big cities to beg on the streets for food and money from tourists. Now they are in the care of our zoos, their care is specifically planned to deliver on their behavioural, physical and social needs.
What role do the elephants have in conservation?
The successful progression of the regional 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 and Taronga Western Plains Zoos may be the only ones they ever have a chance to see. Here they can learn about elephants and what they can do to help conserve them. Donated funds from the public, as well as ongoing zoo funding projects are put towards a range of conservation programs that Taronga supports throughout Asia to try and help secure a future for wild Asian Elephants.
Do the zoo facilities work for the elephants?
Prior to arriving in Australia, our elephants, like many other domestic elephants throughout Asia, lived in camps where they were either working, or tethered by a 3 metre long chain.
Facilities at Taronga and Taronga Western Plains Zoos have been specifically designed and built for the elephants, with the inclusion of heated barns, waterways and pools, shade structures, mud wallows, dust mounds and many and varied environmental enrichment features. Elephants at both zoos are fit, active and interact with each other and their environments. They are cared for by professional keepers, veterinarians, behaviour biologists and a nutritonal expert.
Elephants: In the wild and in captivity
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 what is actually happening in 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 as few as 35,000 Asian Elephants remain in isolated forest pockets 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 and battles, religious ceremonies, agriculture, farming and 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 conservation breeding 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, and an elephant orphan care program in Sri Lanka.
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?
As young male elephants reach sexual maturity they are driven and pushed out of female dominated herds. Mature bulls naturally 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, so Gung was provided with his own specialised home.
Gung, however, still receives visits from females during breeding times.
Gung's home has a large heated barn with hot and 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.