Elephants are incredibly intelligent and emotional creatures. In the wild, they have dynamic lives and play an integral role in forming their ecosystems. Few species have the cognitive ability to recognize themselves in the mirror, but elephants have passed the test. This self-recognition demonstrates that they are able to see themselves as separate, one of the main traits underlying empathy and complex sociality.
What’s more, ever tender to their young, elephants are immensely social beings who can go for years without seeing a loved one and then immediately recognize them upon meeting again. They mourn dead members of their herds and help family members and friends survive in times of drought or crisis.
The more we learn about these self-aware animals, the harder it becomes to justify keeping them in captivity. Many are starting to learn how elephants come into captivity — whether they are captured in the wild, or bred in captivity, and in the past few years, we’ve seen how greatly the public’s perception of captivity has changed. One of the biggest changes, and potentially most influential, came from an announcement by Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus. For over a century the exploitation of elephants has played a crucial role in their acts but in March of this year, the circus announced it would be closing.
But while there has been some positive progress for captive elephants in recent years, there is still a long way to go. Elephants are still exploited to perform meaningless tricks for humans, and many in ways unsuspecting tourists don’t know of the immense cruelty behind the scenes. “Cute” elephants on social media can be seen painting, swaying to music, frolicking at the beach, or in unexpected places behaving in unexpected ways. Don’t ignore the “elephant in the room!” Chances are very high that this imagery was obtained because elephants were under duress, in a state of great depression, or shown…