© Tammy Fifer, Louisville Zoo
AZA and Elephants
As wild populations of elephants continue to decline in Africa and Asia, AZA accredited zoos are playing a vital role as stewards of an important part of the world’s heritage. While supporting conservation programs in the wild, AZA institutions are also caring for 168 African and 138 Asian elephants in 68 AZA-accredited institutions and 2 approved non-AZA participating institutions. These institutions are dedicated to caring for these animals in a humane and science-based manner which supports AZA's strong commitment to high standards of Animal Care and Management. This commitment is personified by the many professional zookeepers and veterinarians that dedicate their careers to the care of these magnificent animals.
Zoos also have a unique opportunity to contribute to our knowledge of elephants by studying the health, nutrition, welfare, general physiology, behavior and reproduction of the animals in their care. The value of this scientific research to conservationists and biologists is becoming increasingly apparent as elephant populations continue to shrink and become more isolated due to habitat fragmentation.
As flagship species, African and Asian elephants in zoos are important ambassadors for their wild counterparts and the wild habitats in which they live. Education programs at AZA accredited zoos play an important role in promoting elephant conservation efforts by educating people about the threats elephants face in the wild and providing mechanisms for people around the world to make a difference.
The Association supplies conservation and education resources, provides financial support, advocates on behalf of elephants with a unified and consistent voice, and maintains partnerships with like-minded government and non-government agencies to raise awareness of elephant issues and promote elephant conservation. Recently, AZA worked with partners to support the creation of a Save Vanishing Species semi-postal stamp. Purchase of the 55-cent stamp provided funds to international wildlife conservation efforts, including those on behalf of African and Asian Elephants.
Over the last three decades, elephant populations in Africa and Asia have suffered precipitous declines. In the 1970s, there were an estimated 1.6 million African elephants. Today, that number has dropped to less than 500,000. With Asian Elephants, the rate of decline has been less dramatic, but the population base was far smaller to begin with and there are estimated to be only 30,000 left.
AZA-accredited zoos provide the majority of support for the International Elephant Foundation and participate in more than 85 elephant conservation and research projects, including field-based training of park guards and land managers, habitat restoration, activities focused on reducing human-elephant conflict, ecotourism, and community-based initiatives. In 2012, AZA elephant holding institutions provided an impressive $1.1 million in support of in-situ elephant conservation projects. Answers to other Frequently asked Questions and information about Elephants in the News are provided.
Accreditation Standards for Elephants
AZA-accredited zoos that care for elephants must meet or exceed AZA’s rigorous accreditation standards for elephants, which are more demanding than those of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service or state regulatory agencies. Management plans that ensure superior care for each elephant must be created and maintained to ensure that their social, behavioral, psychological, and physical needs are met. Read more about AZA Accreditation Standards for Elephants.