ONE of the world's leading animal rights campaigners has hit out at Edinburgh Zoo's plans to bring elephants back into captivity.
Will Travers, chief executive of the Born Free Foundation which he set up with his parents Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna - stars of the film Born Free - said he was appalled that the zoo's 58 million expansion vision considered reintroducing elephants.
The last elephant left Edinburgh Zoo nearly 12 years ago after her companion died. Since then, the only elephant on the site has been a fibreglass model, which until recently bore a sign saying it was the only one there because the conditions for looking after elephants could "not be met" at Edinburgh Zoo.
Mr Travers, 47, pictured below, said that, as far as he was concerned, the situation had not changed. He pledged to raise the issue when he arrives in the Capital to speak at a fundraising evening for an international children's charity later this spring.
And his criticism of the zoo over its U-turn was strongly echoed by animal rights activists.
Mr Travers, who is scheduled to speak at an event in aid of the Hope and Homes for Children charity at St George's School for Girls on May 9, said: "I understand that Edinburgh Zoo is now contemplating having elephants back and we would not be in favour of that at all. We are very, very clear in our minds that elephants in zoos is a very, very bad move, and has serious implications for the animals."
Among the problems he highlighted were the impact on elephants' expected lifespans, which he said averaged between 18 and 23 years for those kept in zoos, while in the wild they can live as long as 60 years or more. And he said that depriving elephants of their social group could damage them psychologically.
"Quite often in zoos, you see them swaying or rocking from one foot to another, signs of psychological problems."
He added that his organisation worked closely with an elephant rescue centre in America, where the enclosure for African elephants alone measures some 60 acres, compared to the entire area covered by Edinburgh Zoo, which spans 86 acres.
The Born Free Foundation was established in 1990 to prevent cruelty to animals and was a spin-off of the Zoo Check organisation, set up in 1984 to examine the treatment of animals in captivity.
Its founders, Virginia McKenna and her husband, the late Bill Travers, starred together in Born Free, the true story of Joy and George Adamson, a couple who raised a lion cub, Elsa, in Kenya.
Ross Minett, of Advocates for Animals, also condemned Edinburgh Zoo over the elephant issue. He said: "It's just outrageous. I hope they won't go through with it, and we will be doing everything we can to stop it. It's completely unjustifiable.
"The arguments zoos use to justify their existence are conservation and education. If anything, that education is negative, because they teach children that it's OK to keep animals behind bars for our entertainment. And the reality is that the money is wasted - it could do so much more in the wild, preserving animals in their natural habitat."
But Edinburgh Zoo today defended the proposals.
A spokeswoman for the zoo said: "The masterplan is a vision for the future of Edinburgh Zoo. As it stretches over 20 years, it will have to be flexible. In this respect, the plans for the animal collection are very much aspirational, and will depend on the conservation need of each species.
"At the moment, the future does not look bright for the Indian elephant as a result of poaching and habitat loss. If we are to fulfil our aim 'to protect endangered species', then we have to include them in our future.
"Born Free is an organisation against the keeping of any animals in captivity, irrespective of the species. As with other anti-zoo organisations, much of their arguments are unfounded and many do not have a fair understanding about work being done by good zoos, like Edinburgh, today. "
Under plans announced by the zoo last month, its 20-year vision and 58m expansion plan includes dividing the park into four "biome" zones, joined by a railway.
As well as elephants, other animals which may be brought to the zoo include manatees, more polar bears, orang-utans, giraffes and kangaroos.