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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 160


Senator Brown asked the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, upon notice, on 17 November 2004:

With reference to the proposed importation of nine Asian elephants from Thailand by a consortium of Australasian zoos:

(1) Is there a proposal by a consortium of Australasian zoos, including Taronga Zoo and Melbourne Zoo, to import nine Asian elephants from Thailand.

(2) Is this proposal part of a broader plan to establish a herd of up to 64 Asian elephants in Australia.

(3) Is it correct that: (a) under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, Asian elephants may only be imported into Australia for conservation breeding purposes, and not for commercial purposes; (b) Asian elephants have never been bred in Australian zoos; and (c) international attempts to breed elephants in captivity have been largely unsuccessful, with few, if any, conservation benefits.

(4) Is it correct that elephants in zoos routinely suffer from serious health and behavioural problems.

(5) Will the Minister approve the current application to import the nine elephants.


Senator Ian Campbell (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —The answer to the honourable senator's question is as follows:

(1) Yes.

(2) The planned maximum population of 64 would be held across both Australia and New Zealand.

(3) (a) No. (b) Yes. (c) There have been limited breeding successes for Asian elephants internationally, although co-ordinated regional attempts at breeding for the purposes of conservation have only recently commenced and the future results of these attempts are unknown.

(4) A number of serious health and behavioural problems have been recorded in the past for elephants in zoos around the world, including:

- foot and skin disorders;

- shortened life expectancy compared with wild elephants;

- low rates of breeding success, including high rates of infant mortality;

- aggression towards humans and other elephants; and

- behavioural problems such as swaying or trunk-swinging, which demonstrate a lack of social and environmental stimulation.

The assessment of the proposed imports will include consideration of what measures have been put in place to mitigate against these problems and how likely it is that they will occur in the future.

(5) My Department is currently undertaking a careful and comprehensive assessment of the applications to import elephants to determine whether or not all requirements under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 can be met by the proposal.