Keeping elephants in zoos or safari parks in the UK is set to be banned after claims the animals suffer from mental illness in captivity.

According to campaigners, the highly intelligent animals suffer while in zoos – and new laws will reportedly ban the importation of new elephants into existing locked-up populations.

UK Environment Minister Zac Goldsmith is said to be introducing the legislation to help the future population of the animals after seven centuries of keeping them in captivity in Britain.

The first elephant arrived to Britain in 1255 under King Henry III.

There are currently 51 elephants in 11 zoos across the UK – including at Woburn, Whipsnade, Colchester and Chester.

But since January 2020, it has been illegal for circuses to keep elephants for entertainment.

According to the RSPCA, elephants are plagued by illnesses while in captivity – and live on average just 17 years, compared to their brothers in the wild who live until they’re 50.

And a report into their welfare is set to form the argument against their captivity in zoos – which will be announced as part of the Kept Animals Bill later this year.

A senior source told the Mail: “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.”

Mark Jones of the charity Born Free said: “There are many species that don’t belong in zoos, elephants are very much one of those species.

“It should be phased out, the needs of these very wide roaming, very complex social animals cannot be met in a captive environment.”

Lorraine Platt, chairman of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, said: “It isn’t appropriate to keep elephants in zoos.

“They need to have large spaces in which to roam and also they have close knit family groups as well.”

Animal Welfare Minister Lord Goldsmith said: “Elephants are iconic, thoughtful and highly intelligent animals, and deserve to be looked after in environments that reflect that.

“We have been clear that all zoo elephants must enjoy the highest possible welfare standards, and that is why we commissioned a robust 10-year-long report from the UK Elephant Welfare Group to suggest and make improvements in the way elephants are kept in UK zoos, and monitor progress.

“They have been given free rein to explore the issue and deliver whatever final recommendations they see fit, and their report will be completed this year and then considered by the UK’s Zoos Expert Committee. Government will respond early next year.”

This comes after the “world’s loneliest elephant” who was living in a zoo in Pakistan was moved to a sanctuary in Cambodia.

The elephant, named Kaavan, became the focus of a campaign by animal rights activists amid concerns about the conditions in which he was being kept.

Kaavan left Islamabad Zoo last year for a facility in Cambodia, said Four Paws International, a charity which has led a campaign since 2016.

This article originally appeared on The Sun and has been republished with permission.