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CVMA Policies on Elephants

It’s been suggested that elephants have large and highly developed central nervous systems with a great capacity for social cognition and awareness.* Elephants have unique characteristics that must be addressed when they are kept in captivity.  Walking is necessary for foraging, exercise, socializing and health; and requires special enclosures that will accommodate these needs.  These facilities should provide enrichment features to stimulate the elephant physically, socially, and mentally (different foraging location for both mineral blocks and food sources, objects to rub against at various heights, water features, large wood or rock objects to move, limbs of trees to use as tools or toys, mud and dust wallows, etc.). The elephant has a well-developed matriarchal clan society which must be maintained in captivity and great care must be followed when developing a group and adding new elephants to the group.**


All captive elephants must have regular veterinary care including full body examinations and sample collection for health maintenance and grooming.  Elephants should be trained to facilitate obtaining samples safely for both the elephants and their handlers.  All elephant owning institutions should implement a daily training ritual for all elephants to encourage and improve relationships between trainers and elephants.

We recommend that captive elephant facilities participate in regularly scheduled medical, safety, and training assessments by an outside overseeing body or consultant in accordance with local,  state, and federal law.


(April 2013)

Elephant bull hooks have been used in free contact training and for control during health management and exhibition. The free contact method of training should be replaced by positive reinforcement methods such as protected contact training when possible.  The bull hook should be used in a manner that’s consistent with the safety and well-being of the elephant, its keeper, and the public and should not inflict harm upon an elephant.


The CVMA only supports the use of tethers for the shortest time required for specific management purposes.  Tethers provide a means to temporarily limit an elephant’s movement for elephant and human safety and well-being.  Use of tethers should not result in discomfort or skin injury.  Forelimb tethers should be loose on the foot below the ankle joint, and hind limb tethers should fit snugly on the limb between the ankle and knee joints.  Tether length should be sufficient to allow the elephant to easily lie down and rise.


(Revised April 2013)

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