AN ANIMAL welfare group is calling for a ban on importing elephants into UK zoos.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said captive elephants were "suffering" and until welfare issues were addressed properly, no more should be imported.
The plea was made as a response to a new report, commissioned by Defra, about the welfare of elephants in zoos. RSPCA scientist Dr Ros Clubb said: "We are extremely disappointed the report did not recommend an outright ban.
"The RSPCA believes that until solutions to the extensive and serious welfare problems can be found we should not be introducing more elephants.
"Elephants are without question suffering in zoos.
"Adding yet more elephants to an ailing population simply masks the problems. If drastic improvements to these problems cannot be found, the RSPCA believes zoos should phase out elephant keeping."
The report, written by scientists from Bristol University, suggests if importation was stopped there would be "no merit" in establishing a separate, genetically isolated UK population.
"If the aim is for a breeding population in the UK in the long term, there would be a need for animals to be trans-located between the UK and other European countries," it said.
Scientists have expressed concerns over elephants in zoos having high levels of obesity, behavioural abnormalities and higher infant mortality rates.
Studies show longevity in zoo animals is almost three times lower than those in the wild.
There are about 70 elephants in 13 UK zoos seen by about seven million people a year.