Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Finally, even zoos are questioning the ethics of keeping elephants as slaves in captivity.

Very good sign. Finally, even zoos are questioning the ethics of keeping elephants as slaves in captivity. Don't think for a second that this isn't in some part due to the hard work people on the anti-zoo side have done. Again, education and persistence is the key to showing the truth of zoos, slavery, and captivity. A promising sign. Yet, as you'll see, there's still much work to be done.

Read on.....


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/
article/2005/12/27/AR2005122700939.html?referrer=emailarticle

The Elephant in the Room
U.S. Zoos Struggle With Question of Keeping Pachyderms in Captivity
By Robert Strauss
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, December 28, 2005; A03

PHILADELPHIA -- A vintage advertising poster from the mid-20th century
hangs in the offices of the Philadelphia Zoo. It has a yellow
background
with a semi-Art Deco drawing of an elephant and says "Visit the zoo.
Open
every day."

Some things haven't changed at the Philadelphia Zoo, America's oldest,
founded in 1874. It is still open every day and, for the time being, it
still has elephants. But in Philadelphia, as in zoos around the
country,
the question of whether elephants should be kept at all zoos -- or
maybe
even any zoo -- has almost abruptly become a sensitive one.

"I can tell you that if the animal rights people had picked the
elephant
shrew instead of the elephant, no one would be calling me," said Mark
C.
Reed, the executive director of the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita,
Kan.,
and the head of the Elephant Task Force of the American Zoo and
Aquarium
Association. "They are a flagship animal. To some people, elephants
mean
Africa or Asia. I look at them as the representatives for species in
the
wild."

Three zoos have discontinued their elephant exhibits over the past
year,
and this fall the Philadelphia Zoo decided to put on hold plans to
build a
new and larger elephant habitat. The zoo's board decided to fund a $20
million big-cat habitat, a new aviary and an update of the children's
zoo
instead of a new area for the zoo's four elephants.

A protest group, Friends of the Philly Zoo Elephants, has claimed this
as
a victory. The group maintains that elephants are roaming and foraging
animals and need more space than zoos can give them. It and other
animal
rights activists say that penned-in elephants tend to get diseases and
injuries they would not get in the wild. The Philadelphia group is
pressing the zoo to donate its elephants to a sanctuary in Tennessee.

"I know it's the right thing to do. Whether the zoo does it is a
different
thing," said Rowan Morrison, the spokeswoman for the group.

The organization has protested at the Amtrak station and a City Council
meeting, asking people to sign petitions to move the elephants.
Morrison
said the group formed earlier this year after one of the elephants
gored
another. She said she has asked the zoo for medical reports on the
elephants but has been denied them. Zoo officials have said they do not
want to respond to the group, but were not reluctant to talk about the
elephant issue in general.

"It is a concern for us because it brings into focus what zoos are
for,"
said Andrew J. Baker, the zoo's senior vice president for animal
programs.
"If we make the decision to not have elephants here, it will be a
tremendous disappointment, not only for us as zoo people, but for
visitors. I can see people saying, 'How will my kid learn about
elephants
if he can't see them?' We would continue with our missions of education
and research, but it would certainly be different here."

The elephant issue has come to the fore as zoos in Detroit, Chicago and
San Francisco have discontinued their elephant exhibits in the past
year.
Three elephants at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo died in eight months, and
two elephants died last year at the San Francisco Zoo. The zoo in
chilly
Detroit shipped its elephants to a sanctuary in California in the
spring.

By contrast, the National Zoo in Washington plans to expand its
elephant
collection from four pachyderms to form a social group like those found
in
the wild. This will require a much larger elephant house that can
accommodate an adult male elephant, according to the zoo's Web site.

"Elephants are an attraction, that is true, but the way we treat
elephants
in captivity has got to change," said Richard Farinato, who runs the
Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, a sanctuary mostly for injured or
abused large animals, in Murchison, Tex., outside of Dallas, for the
Humane Society of the United States. "We've been giving them discipline
by
complete domination and making them live without being able to roam on
more than a few acres and live with wet, cold concrete under their
feet.
It is no wonder they have arthritic conditions after a while or gore
each
other.

"Some zoos are building larger areas for elephants, and that is good,
but
it might be best to have them all in sanctuaries," he said.

Reed, of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, the nonprofit
organization to which most zoos belong, said the recent elephant
controversy is overblown.

"What people forget is that sooner or later, every animal in every zoo
is
going to die, no matter how well we treat them," Reed said, noting that
no
one has accused any zoo of intentional abuse. "Just because elephants
can
walk 50 miles a day, it doesn't mean they do -- or even want to."

He said that just like humans, elephants would rather stay put, and
they
do if they can find water, shelter and food.

"Some of this is our own fault. We put up signs at the fence that say
an
elephant can walk 50 miles in a day and people then say they have to
walk
that far," said Reed. "We make sure our elephants get exercise, but
three,
four, five miles is plenty, we feel."

He said the Sedgwick Zoo in Wichita is building a 3 1/2 -acre elephant
habitat and plans to acquire as many as four more elephants in the
coming
years.

The Philadelphia Zoo's Baker said his zoo shipped its chimpanzees to
zoos
in St. Louis and Scottsbluff, Neb., a decade ago.

"We didn't think we could care for them correctly. It was a
disappointment
for visitors for a while, but then the furor died down," he said. There
are 1,600 animals, many of them exotic species from all over the world,
at
the Philadelphia Zoo. "I know if the elephants go, it will be sad, but
we
will have the new big-cat exhibit and many other things to attract
people."

Elephants, though, are both an attraction and a sentimental thing for
Reed.

"Our job is to link people to these animals, to know that their
education
about them has a global reach," Reed said, noting that despite great
conservation efforts, the population of African elephants has dwindled
from 2 million to 600,000 in the past 25 years and that there are only
40,000 Asian elephants left.

"My first animal contact was seeing Rosie the elephant at the Portland,
Oregon, zoo when I was 3 1/2 , in 1954. It had a huge impact, and I
know
it is why I am in this line of work," he said. "We've had elephants in
circuses, zoos, on television, with 'Dumbo,' cartoons. Yes, zoos should
always update their care, but they are an umbrella species. People are
attracted to give money and time to conserve them, and in that way
conserve the wild environment around them."

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