Keeping elephants in zoos or safari parks to be BANNED

Keeping elephants in zoos or safari parks is to be banned - legislation will prohibit importation of any new animals and the existing population will be allowed to die out naturally.

Campaigners have long warned that the highly intelligent animals suffer from mental illness in zoos.

They are also plagued in captivity by illnesses, including crippling arthritis, and live on average for just 17 years according to the RSPCA. This compares with more than 50 years in the wild. The legislation will bring to an end more than seven centuries of elephants being kept in captivity in Britain.

The first arrived in 1255, a present to Henry III from Louis IX of France. It was described as 'a beast most strange and wonderful to the English people, sith most seldome or never any of that kind had been seene in England before that time'.

The Government is due to receive the results of a report on the welfare of elephants in captivity soon. It is understood that it argues against keeping them in zoos. A senior source said: 'Once the current load of elephants die out we will say you can't replace them.

It's impossible to keep them in conditions where they are happy, the space is too small.

'In the UK the biggest elephant enclosures are so minute. They grub up the environment so quickly too – they have an incredibly important role in that but if they are in such a small area they destroy everything.

'It's very likely we are going to say you can't make elephants happy in zoos, we should instead be focusing on elephant conservation in areas that have elephants.'

This policy is part of wider zoo reforms, due to be announced as part of the Kept Animals Bill later this year.