Captive Philosophy

Forest, Friends, and Freedom are Elemotion Foundation’s three basic requirements for happy and healthy captive elephants.

FOREST. Elephants tone muscles, stretch joints, and keep their feet and nails healthy by walking over varied terrain and natural substrate. Free foraging allows elephants to eat a varied diet. They will seek out medicinal plants, salts, and minerals when needed. Elephants will go to water to bathe, drink, and relax. During the hot parts of the day, elephants will find shade and limit their activities to remain cool. Dusting their bodies and covering themselves with mud keeps their skin healthy, protected from the sun and insects.

FRIENDS. Elephants are highly social creatures with intricate family hierarchies and life-long bonds. Friends and family are a crucial part of happy elephant society. Wild females stay together in their family group for life. Even males need company in the form of bachelor herds, sparing partners, and females for mating.

FREEDOM. Expression of free will is imperative for a happy and healthy elephant. This point is often overlooked at tourist and zoo facilities because an elephant looks physically healthy. Their mental and emotional well-being must also be considered. Elephants are extremely intelligent, emotionally complex, and one of the few animals which is self aware. Captive elephant facilities that provide a good level of freedom often have elephants that express more natural behaviors.

Forest, Friends, Freedom


Elephants in captivity endure a very long list of disorders, diseases, and ailments that wild elephants do not regularly face. Chain cut wounds, foot and nail disorders, obesity, skin ailments, musculoskeletal disorders, Tuberculosis, increasing instances of Elephant Herpesvirus, rejection of calves by captive mothers, physical abuse, and psychological issues such as stereotypy are a few examples. (Stereotypy is a constant rocking or bobbing behavior. Observed only in captive elephants, it is a coping mechanism due to trauma, anticipation, or anxiety).

Unfortunately, the standard of care for elephants is very low in many captive facilities. Tourism camps, traveling circuses, and low rate zoos do not often provide the basic three F’s. Even top zoos and more proactive elephant facilities must make very expensive and complex efforts to try to to meet the needs of elephants in captivity. Examples include creating costly enclosures, swimming pools, enrichment materials, acquiring new or transferred elephants for companionship, and practicing advanced veterinary medicine such as artificial insemination. While some older elephants can be found in zoos, the average life expectancy is low, creating a strong argument that few elephants are thriving in captivity.

As long as elephants remain in captivity, Elemotion Foundation prefers captive elephant facilities that provide their elephants with forest, friends, and freedom; do not work their elephants; and strive to give their elephants an environment that closely replicates life in the wild.
See our recommended elephant-friendly facilities here.