The Sao Paulo Zoo has 3 elephants, 2 Asians females kept together and 1 African female housed separately. Before going to the zoo we heard all about the African elephant, Teresita, and how neurotic she was, alone, stereotyping for a large part of the day. When we arrived we were surprised to be more concerned with the health and well being of the Asian elephants Serva and Hangun. The front of their enclosure is entirely concrete, with a mud area in the back that was so dried and hard that it actually formed little peaks. One of the elephants did not move while we were there, except to shift weight from one foot to another. She had visible abscessing in one of her feet and appeared uncomfortable. The other Asian elephant (I am not using their names because we are not sure which elephant was which, on the sign with their pictures and names, the same elephant was in both photos) was more animated but also very stiff and deliberate in her movements. After coming to the front of the enclosure to beg a little bit, the more mobile elephant sidled up to the other elephant and they seemed to enjoy each other’s company. Both elephants appeared somewhat resigned to their surroundings.
We only had an hour to visit both Asian and African elephant enclosures before the zoo closed, so we were unable to observe for as long as we would have liked. Teresita was a short walk away, and typical to most African elephants, was active and animated. During our visit we only saw her stereotype mildly for a few moments. The rest of the time she walked back and forth, finding ways to try and occupy her time. She would climb over her perimeter fence (just a short wooden one- all zoo enclosures in Brazil have moats) and stretch as far as she could, reaching for some fresh branches or grass to eat. Even when there is grass in an elephant’s enclosure, if the enclosure is small, all of the dirt and grass becomes thoroughly contaminated with urine, so they won’t eat it. Because of her doing this regularly, she has muscle tone that many captive elephants do not have. She had a swelling over one of her eyes, and only has one tusk. From what we’ve been told, Teresita, has been labeled as uncooperative and aggressive among other names that “bad” elephants find themselves with in captivity, but most elephants are just misunderstood and aren’t given the opportunity to show who they truly are.
We had a difficult time watching all three of these elephants. While we were there we did not witness the stereotypical behavior that Teresita generally exhibits but there is a great concern for her psychological health. At the end of the day we found ourselves with greater concern for Serva and Hangun, they have a newer enclosure but it’s mostly covered with concrete, with lack of stimuli to move or wander it is not doing their aging, overweight bodies any favors. But, there’s something else with the two Asians, it almost felt like they’ve lost the fight to make the most out of their tragic situation. All of these ladies carry the scars of captivity, all three need a substantial change