Captive breeding programmes for the Asian elephant Elephas maximus have failed to establish self-sustaining zoo populations. Birth rates are low and calf mortality rates are high. The zoo population is widely dispersed, with few animals being moved on breeding loan. New techniques may increase birth rates but current predictions suggest demographic extinction within 50 years. It would be difficult to justify importing elephants from sustainable zoo reserves in Asia to participate in ex situ breeding programmes where reproductive success is low. Zoos should either urgently regroup animals to form breeding units, or accept that Asian elephants will die out in zoos and that funds should be diverted to in situ conservation projects.
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