Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Zoos are no place for elephants

Really?!! You mean very large animals who roam great distances should not be kept in small areas with cement enclosures? Who would have thought?

Zoos are no place for elephants


From: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9078917/

Animal Behaviorist Weighs In On Proposed City Ordinance

WMAQ-TV

CHICAGO - An animal behaviorist who has studied elephants for 30 years in Africa told a City Council committee Thursday she believes no zoo can adequately care for elephants without providing several miles of space for them to roam. Images: Zoo's Last Elephant Dies

Jan. 2005 Images: Peaches Passes Away

Oct. 2004 Images: Elephant Dies At Lincoln Park Zoo Alderwoman Mary Ann Smith (48th) has introduced legislation that would require any zoo or other stationary animal exhibit to provide a minimum of 10 acres of space -- five acres indoors and five outdoors -- per elephant. Meanwhile, circuses or other traveling exhibits would have to provide a minimum 1,800 square feet indoors and outdoors for a single elephant, with an additional 900 square feet indoors and outdoors per additional elephant.

During a hearing by the City Council's Parks & Recreation Committee, Joyce Poole, research director of the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya, said she believes zoos provide some advantages through medical research that can be used to benefit animals in the wild. But she said most zoos and circuses simply do not have the space to properly care for an animal the size of an elephant.

"In my view, elephants are not made for zoos as we see them today. I would like to see, maybe 10, maybe 15 spaces ... in the United States that have elephants. I see them more like a sanctuary where you have a certain number of elephants, males and females can breed together, families can be established and they can live normal elephant lives where they can breed and graze," Poole said.

Poole has been studying elephant behavior at Amboseli National Park in Kenya since 1975.

According to Poole, elephants have a highly developed "democratic" social structure and the animals develop long-term relationships with each other. She said elephants have shown the ability to recognize other elephants after several years of separation and are well-known for their ability to recognize and even mourn the deaths of other elephants.

Poole said zoos are not conducive to developing such social relationships because most zoos keep only a handful of elephants, while in the wild, females and calves live in family groups of an average of nearly 19 animals per group.

Of the 1,300 elephants at the 150-square-mile Amboseli National Park, the largest group contained about 550 animals, according to Poole.

Most elephants at the park travel between 5 and to 10 miles per day, further in drought conditions, and Poole said the animals cannot get the same amount or quality of exercise in the confined spaces offered by most zoos and circuses. She said most zoo elephants suffer from obesity, arthritis or painful foot problems because of the lack of activity, health problems they do not face in the wild or in large animal sanctuaries.

Though some critics of proposals to restrict or prohibit the keeping of elephants in circuses have argued the animals get exercise during the acts they perform, Poole said the exercise is not the same quality as the animals get in the wild.

She said circus elephants are under more stress when they perform because of a fear they will be disciplined for failure to perform. "I don't think it's appropriate exercise," Poole said.

Smith, who chairs the Parks & Recreation Committee, said she does not expect to bring the proposal to a vote for several months. She said because the ordinance is not a routine matter for the City Council, she wants to "do some quality homework" to gather evidence from as many experts as possible.

While officials from Lincoln Park Zoo and Brookfield Zoo were notified of Thursday's hearing, Smith said she scheduled Poole's testimony only because Poole happened to be in Chicago for another reason and Smith wanted to hear from Poole at some point.

Smith said she expects to invite zoo officials and other animal experts to testify later to gather as much information as possible. "You can tell there is a huge universe of research here that is available to us and we intend to continue drawing in this research," Smith said.

Lincoln Park Zoo spokeswoman Kelly McGrath could not immediately provide comment.

Smith drafted the ordinance following the deaths of three Lincoln Park Zoo elephants between October 2004 and May 2005.

A report by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association determined, based on necropsies and interviews, that Wankie and Tatima, two 36-year-old African elephants, died from a rare lung disease and Peaches, a 55-year-old African elephant, died from complications due to old age.

Wankie -- who had lost 30 percent of her lung capacity due to the infection, mycobacteria szulgai, and was suffering from a bout of colic just before her transfer to the Hogle Zoo in Utah -- died on May 1, according to the AZA report. Tatima died on Oct. 16, 2004, and Peaches died on Jan. 17, the report said.

Information provided by City News Service.

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