All elephants living in Indian zoos and circuses will be moved to wildlife parks and game sanctuaries where the animals can graze more freely, officials at Indian’s Central Zoo Authority announced earlier this month.
The order followed complaints and pressure from animal rights activists about elephants that are kept in captivity, often chained for long hours and unable to roam.
The elephants are to be moved to “elephant camps” run by the government’s forest department and located near protected areas and national parks. There they would be able to roam and graze freely, but “mahouts,” or traditional elephant trainers, would still keep an eye on them, according to an Associated Press report.
The decision affects around 140 elephants in 26 zoos and 16 circuses in the country. It does not affect the 3,500 elephants that live in captivity in temples, or logging camps where they are used to lift timber.
Research has shown that elephants in the wild live longer and have better health and reproductive records than those in captivity. Zoo elephants often die prematurely and contract diseases or suffer obesity and arthritis more frequently than in their natural habitats.
India has an estimated 28,000 wild elephants living in forest reserves and national parks, mainly in the southern and northeastern parts of the country.