Augsburg – She stirs the wind with her ears and wags her tail to ward off flies. She quietly crushes one banana after another. The elephant cow Targa eats around 50 every day at the Augsburg zoo. She also receives 40 kilograms of vegetables, but they must be steamed.
At 67, Targa is Germany’s oldest elephant, according to the zoo. The animal is also one of the oldest human-supported elephants in the world. Converted to human lives, Targa would be around 100 years old.
Eating is no longer so simple. “Elephants get new teeth six times in their lifetime. Targa has had theirs for over 20 years,” says zookeeper Marcus Linder. Apart from him and his colleagues, no one is in the enclosure. Targa is alone. Because a year ago, on June 16, 2021, his companion Burma died at the age of 53.
34 years spent together
After the two elephants spent 34 years together, the female elephant had to be put down. Targa was hit hard. Weeks later, she was still looking for Burma, Linder said. She’s very introspective and doesn’t make a lot of sounds anymore.
She doesn’t want to have much to do with her neighbors Louise and Frosja. The two elephant cows have their own space in the barn. In fact, all three should live together after Burma’s death. But elephants have hierarchies and Louise doesn’t want to be subordinate. “The risk is too great that the other two will attack Targa and seriously injure her,” says Linder.
Elephant researcher Angela Stöger-Horwath from the University of Vienna explains the background: “Elephants live in family groups led by the mother cow. The most experienced cow leads the herd. Later, the girl often follows in his footsteps.
Targa alone now, next to the other elephants
In nature, the hierarchy is clear. However, if different elephants are gathered in the zoo, a leader must first assert himself. Now Targa lives next door, not with the other two elephants.
Passing Louise, she pushes her trunk through the fence. He looks affectionate when their trunks touch. But that’s misleading, says Linder: “If Targa had gotten close, Louise would have missed her.”
Louise and Frosja are kept in supposedly protected contact. There is always a fence between humans and animals. Targa is used to other things, even lets you pet her. However, this has a brutal background. Targa was still tame the “old school”. The guardian behaves like the leader of the herd and, when in doubt, uses force to assert himself.
Born in India in 1955
In addition, the animals are temporarily chained. When Targa was born in India in 1955, it was still common to separate baby elephants from their families in the wild for zoos. It is not known exactly how it fell into human hands. At the age of six, Targa landed in Germany – first in Hamburg, then in Osnabrück.
She has been in Augsburg since 1987. Abuse is now a thing of the past for Targa. Elephants have not been chained in Augsburg since 2004. Nurse Marcus Linder does not believe that his past is still in his mind: “An elephant does not have an active memory like humans. Targa only remembers the past when confronted with an object or sound from that era”. However, Stöger-Horwath regards this depiction as speculation. ‘an elephant.
Keeping animals in zoos has long been controversial
Either way, whether elephants even belong in zoos has long been a matter of debate. The German Association for Animal Welfare sees this “very critically” and doubts whether giant mammals can be kept in a species-appropriate way. The animal protection organization Peta generally rejects the keeping of wild animals in zoos and speaks of “animal prisons”.
Opponents of keeping a zoo refer to life expectancy. According to an older study, this concerns elephants in zoos under the age of 20. Critics of this study, on the other hand, note that the researchers ignored the improvement in housing conditions. The exact location of life expectancy is ultimately a matter of debate.
But one thing is clear: at 50, an elephant is very old. According to Linder, the fact that Targa was able to age a lot is due to her genes, her sanity and her careful maintenance. But now the old lady suffers from osteoarthritis and has abscesses on her legs. “If Targa can no longer walk because of the pain, he must be put to sleep”, explains his guardian. But if and when that will happen is hard to say.
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