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Study: Elephants in zoos live much shorter lives

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AP Photo/Science / C.Moss / HANDOUT

(Read caption) An adult female, her daughter, and their calves in natural free-range in Kenya. Zoo elephants don't live as long as those in the wild, according to a new study certain to add fuel the debate about keeping the giant animals on display. Researchers compared the life spans of elephants in European zoos with those living in Amboseli National Park in Kenya and working on a timber enterprise in Myanmar.

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Elephants in captivity in Europe have a far shorter median lifespan than those living in protected areas in Africa and Asia, a new study has found.

In a study published this week in the journal Science, zoologist Georgia Mason, of the University of Guelph in Canada, and colleagues drew on 45 years of data on more than 4,500 African and Asian elephants worldwide. The elephants studied lived in European zoos, a wildlife preserve in Kenya, and a Burmese enterprise that uses elephants to harvest timber. Most of the elephants were female.

The results were shocking. Ms. Mason and her colleagues found that, excluding premature and still births, zoo-born African elephants had a median life span of 16.9 years, compared with 56 years for animals in the park. Asian elephants, which are more endangered than their African counterparts, lived for 18.9 years in captivity and 41.7 years in the Burmese timber trade.

The study further noted that Asian elephants had far higher infant mortality rates in zoos, a problem that the authors say had "not significantly improved over time."

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