On the website for Elephant Voices (elephantvoices.org), Dr. Joyce Poole and Petter Granli describe optimal conditions for elephants based on decades of research and observations of elephants in both wild and captive environments. As the largest land mammal on Earth, one of the most important requirements for the physical and psychological well-being of the elephant is space. Exactly how much space an individual elephant needs is difficult to determine simply because elephants operate within a community, not as individuals. Poole and Granli state that "elephants need enough space to be elephants" and go about their elephant business, which, at a minimum, includes living in a herd of at least 20 to 30 individuals of all ages and sexes, the ability to choose among social partners and/or choose to be alone, as well as engaging in natural behaviors such as foraging, dusting, mud wallowing, swimming, resting, playing, and running about. They estimate that ideal conditions for elephant life can only be achieved when elephants have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of acres to roam with their family group.
In stark contrast, Billy the male elephant at the Los Angeles Zoo, lives alone on about one acre of usable space surrounded by metal bars and the constant clicking of electric wires. In addition, heavy gates keep Billy from using the entire acre at one time, and he is separated from the two female elephants at all times.
"I am a prisoner pacing my cell,
Three steps back my corner of hell,
Lock me away and swallow the key,
But someday I shall be free."
From "I Am A Wanderer" by Joan Baez