Europes 1st OAP Home Opened For Retired Circus Elephants

Story ByMichael Leidig, Sub EditorJoseph GolderAgencyCEN

Europe’s first retirement home for elderly circus elephants has just opened in Germany.

The project which opened its doors this week in the German city of Karlsruhe in Baden-Wuerttemberg, was conceived with the aim of providing a home for former circus animals who are no longer able to work.

One of the first to take up residency is female elephant Nanda, who is 52 years old and almost blind, and who previously worked for a Berlin circus.

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Pictures Credit: CEN/Zoo Karlsruhe-Timo Deible

The project has been welcomed by scientists, circus owners and animal rights activists who were all concerned about how to handle the problem of elderly elephants. In practice, many elephants are kept long after they should have retired because it is not possible to afford to feed them unless they are earning money.

Karlsruhe elephant retirement home director Matthias Reinschmidt said the project was to allow for an “elephant exit” – or “Elexit”.

He said: “It was a problem for circuses, because you can’t just give an elephant to an animal shelter.”

Typically elephants are ready to go into retirement at the age of around 40, and with around 300 German circuses having animals, at some stage they are going to have to put those animals into retirement. 

According to the director, not all of the animals are obviously elephants, but around 30 elephants are currently working in German circuses.

Nanda now has access to around 3,000 square metres of space and the zoo expects to have around five elephants at a time. 

But there can only be female elephants, as males can occasionally become too aggressive to handle. There is plenty to keep the elephants amused, including a tree from which they can be fed, a waterfall and a bathing pool.

The only comparable project is an old-age home for elephants in Thailand, where they are often used as working animals until they become too old.

Michael Leidig

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