Hanover zookeepers did not mistreat their elephants, prosecutors conclude

In April public broadcaster ARD published video footage it said showed keepers at Hanover Zoo mishandling their elephants. Prosecutors have now decided that the keepers acted within the law.

Hanover zookeepers did not mistreat their elephants, prosecutors conclude
Elephants at Hanover Zoo. Photo: DPA

Hanover prosecutors dropped their investigation into the zookeepers on Tuesday, concluding that there was insufficient evidence that they had broken laws pertaining to animal welfare, the Nordwest Zeitung reports.

In April, ARD broadcast a report based on footage shot at the zoo by animal rights group Peta. The report claimed that keepers beat young elephants with hooks in order to get them to perform tricks for zoo visitors.

In one instance caught on film, Report Mainz said that one zookeeper can be seen dragging a baby elephant up by the neck, causing the young animal to cry out.

On another occasion an elephant reportedly tried to escape, but two keepers appear to run after it and threaten the animal with their elephant hooks. Then through beatings and threats, they appear to get the elephant to walk in a circle, sit on its behind and “beg”, the TV show reported.

But prosecutors, who commissioned an independent assessment of the video evidence, decided that the treatment of the elephants served their own welfare as well as the safety of the keepers.

Hanover zoo keepers use the “direct contact” method of training elephants, whereby keepers are present in the enclosure with the animals. The keepers use elephant hooks to assert their dominance in the group of wild animals.

The prosecutors' report points out that the training served a purpose that was for the benefit of the animals – keepers need to be able to clip their toe nails and look after the souls of their feet to ensure they don't get infections.

Prosecutors further stated that while the elephants may have felt pain via the use of the hooks, there was no evidence that this had led to long-term distress. They said they found no evidence that the animals displayed signs of trauma, shyness around humans, or a desire to escape.

Many zoos no longer use the direct contact method of training elephants. Speaking to ARD in April, Professor Manfred Niekisch, director of Frankfurt Zoo, called the method “outdated.”

“Beatings and chains are things from the past, when people thought they must dominate the animals,” Niekisch said.

“We know today that it is much better for the animal and the visitor if the elephants behave how they would in the wild.”

Hanover Zoo has also decided to ditch the direct contact method, and is currently rebuilding its enclosures to allow keepers to care for the animals without coming into direct contact with them.