I recently read a letter in the Seattle Times from a reader who believed the elephants at Woodland Park Zoo should remain there, rather than be retired to a sanctuary, so that these elephants can make people aware of conservation efforts needed for wild elephants. (See letter “Keep the Exhibit.”)
It is a logical fallacy to state that keeping elephants in zoos promotes conservation of wild elephants. This claim creates a false relationship between captivity and conservation so as to assume that one can influence the other.
Not only has this relationship been shown to be incorrect by sociological research (reference), but this statement is like saying that we can fight crime in New York City by planting flowers in Seattle. To stop the poaching of wild elephants in Africa and Asia, we must address the direct issues that lead to poaching such as poverty and the ivory trade.
Both poaching and captivity of elephants in zoos and circus are crimes against elephants. To state that the latter prevents the former is like saying that being robbed by a stranger prevents you from being assaulted by a stranger. Crimes against elephants must be dealt with at the source in Africa, Asia and Seattle.