Look for clean drinking water, hay, and fresh produce. When water is provided, observe whether the elephant drinks continuously for several minutes, an indication of excessive thirst.
Look for evidence that elephants are chained, such as ankle bracelets and brackets in the floor, ground, or wall. Chains should be a minimum of 12 feet in length to allow the elephant to lie down and stand up.
Elephants in the wild spend most of their time foraging, roaming, and bathing. In contrast, elephants in circuses spend most of their time shackled. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association prohibits prolonged chaining because the practice is inhumane and harmful. Some circuses erect small pens surrounded by electrical wire where elephants are displayed periodically for public relations purposes. Such penning may not be indicative of how they are typically kept.
Housing any female elephant in solitary confinement, whether in a traveling exhibit or a stationary zoo, is particularly cruel. Check to make sure that elephants are housed at least in pairs. If not, check to see if the singly housed elephants can interact frequently with others close by. Elephants are highly social, have strong emotions, and form tight bonds with one another. They feel joy, pleasure, and compassion, as well as sadness and grief. A female elephant’s most basic need for her physical health and psychological well-being is the companionship of other elephants. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association has a policy against keeping female elephants in solitary confinement.
Look for adequate shade. Elephants are susceptible to sunstroke and sunburn. They must have access to shelter.