Securing a shared future for wildlife and people

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Asian Elephants at Taronga Zoo
Photo: Rick Stevens

Taronga's 12 month report to the Department of Environment and Water Resources (DEW) has confirmed its five Asian Elephants are happy, healthy and very active.

The five, which came from separate backgrounds in Thailand, have formed a well-balanced family, headed by matriarch, Porntip, who leads them through days of swimming, playing, eating and al fresco sleeping in the warm Sydney evenings.

The details of life in Taronga's breeding herd have been delivered in a 40-page report developed following a year's intensive study and monitoring of the elephants by the Zoo's Animal Watch Unit, dedicated keepers and veterinary staff as well as daily observation by 1.2 million Zoo visitors.

The Zoo's 30-year veteran Elephant Manager, Gary Miller, said: "The study found the elephants' activity profile is virtually the same as that of wild elephants. In our care they've gained weight, improved muscle tone, become fitter and, importantly, socially cohesive."

When they were brought together nearly three years ago in Thailand, the elephants were not in great condition and their behaviour had been shaped by the lives many domestic Asian Elephants live as their owners struggle to feed and care for them, involving long periods of tethering and poor nutrition.

Mr Miller's team, using his experience which includes involvement in 30 elephant births, and the comprehensive guidelines of the Australasian Regional Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (ARAZPA) Conservation Management Plan, have created an outstanding quality of life for their charges in Taronga's Wild Asia.

Taronga, Melbourne and other Australasian Zoos are part of a bold regional effort to help ensure a future for remaining Asian Elephants with as few as 34,000 remaining.

In addition to meeting or exceeding the 22 conditions agreed with the Australian Administration Appeals Tribunal (AAT) when it overturned a challenge by animal activists, the Zoo's training and breeding programs are showing great outcomes including breeding behaviour and individual development.

Mr Miller said: "The elephants greet every day with enthusiasm and share their sense of enjoyment with us. They have a great time swimming and diving in the deep pool and rolling around in the mud wallows. We aim to make every day a great day for them"

"When we got the elephants, two of them swayed sometimes because they had been tethered or bored for long periods before they left their previous owners. By the time we brought them to Taronga, our Animal Watch staff showed this was only happening 4% of the time and in the last year, we've cut that further to just 1.8%. We're over the moon."

Successive Thai Government visits have each time confirmed the elephants are in better condition than those in Thailand, healthier and better cared for. Within weeks of arrival, Taronga Zoo Volunteers reported a visiting Thai couple said: "We see elephants every day in Thailand and they have sad eyes but your elephants have happy eyes".

Taronga's report was delivered as required to DEW. 


Mark Williams, Media Relations Manager, Taronga Zoo

Ph: 02 9978 4607 M: 0417 29 3507


Taronga has five Asian Elephants:  Porntip, 15, Pak Boon, 14, Tang Mo, 10, Thong Dee, 7, and young male, Gung, 7.

The importation and Conservation Management Plan was cleared by Governments in Thailand and Australia, Australia's Quarantine Inspection Service (AQIS), NSW's Exhibited Animal Protection Act and Department of Primary Industry.

It met the stringent requirements of the Australasian Regional Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (ARAZPA) which has 72 members from Auckland to Perth which are supported by 16 million visitors annually.

ARAZPA and its member zoos work with hundreds of other zoos and aquaria and the World Association of Zoos and Aquaria (WAZA), drawing on and sharing wildlife conservation information to manage breeding programs, scientific research, conservation education and in situ conservation projects.

Taronga and Western Plains Zoos apply ARAZPA's Five Freedoms to all its creatures - Freedom from Hunger and Thirst; Discomfort; Pain, Injury or Disease; to express a Healthy Range of Natural Behaviours; Fear and Distress.

Since the start of the Conservation Management Plan, Taronga and Melbourne Zoos are now involved in six in situ elephant conservation programs from microchipping the domestic elephants of  Nepal to a new project to help explore the DNA of wild elephants in Cambodia.  The Zoos also gifted a complete elephant veterinary and quarantine centre to the Thai Government to help care for the domestic elephants of Thailand.

Taronga is pioneering Australasian involvement in a global Elephant foot health program using regular foot x-rays and has already tendered for the construction of its new bull facility in expectation of the start of the breeding component of the elephant project in the future.

WAZA recognises that without Zoos many species from frogs to elephants will extinct in 50 years before governments can resolve the impact of human use of global habitats.

Zoos have been reassured by the continued public support of their efforts despite a narrow global campaign by activists who are ideologically opposed to zoos but contribute little to active conservation and education programs such as those of zoos which reach an estimated 600 million people globally.

In recent years, for example, Taronga and Western Plains Zoos have initiated or joined conservation/research programs including:

Corroboree Frog Booralong Frog
Silvery Gibbon Asian Turtles
Asian Elephants Sumatran Tiger
Brushtailed Rock Wallabies Malleefowl
Black Rhinoceros Sumatran Rhinoceros
Regent Honeyeaters Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby

Australian Marine Mammal Research Centre

Fiordland Penguin Australian Sealion

Taronga and Western Plains Zoos also care for 1500 injured and orphaned native animals each year.

For more information contact Media Relations:

Ph: +61 2 9978 4606
Fax: +61 2 9978 4511

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