Monday, February 27, 2006

Garden City's Lee Richardson Zoo in Kansas Just One of Many Zoos Accused of Elephant and other Animal Abuse

Garden City zoo could encounter lengthy process with animal rights accusations

http://www.hutchnews.com/news/regional/stories/Gardenzoo022506.html

By Tim Vandenack

The Hutchinson News

tvandenack@hutchnews.com

GARDEN CITY, KS - Addressing an animal rights group's charge that drastic change is needed in the care of captive elephants - including Moki and Chana at Lee Richardson Zoo - isn't a simple task.

What's more, some say, the changes sought border on unrealistic, even counterproductive.

In Defense of Animals, based in Mill Valley, Calif., charges widespread evidence of chronic foot and joint problems among captive elephants. The group singles out the condition of the animals in six zoos, including Garden City's Lee Richardson Zoo, and seeks change in pertinent federal rules that addresses such woes.

The group filed its complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees zoo animal treatment, and department spokesman Jim Rogers says a preliminary response could be a couple of months in the offing.

In Defense officials think it could take longer. The group's petition, filed in early February, asks the government agency to respond within six months.

For Suzanne Roy, an In Defense program coordinator, it's all part of the process.

She says possible USDA responses include acceptance of proposed rule changes or partial acceptance. The agency could reject the proposals outright, which would enable In Defense to file a lawsuit in federal court.

Significantly, In Defense asks that zoos provide more space for elephants if USDA inspectors find the animals suffer from chronic foot and joint woes. Tight quarters - contrasting the broad swaths elephants range over in the wild - account for such problems, the group claims.

In Defense also asks, without specifying numbers, that elephant enclosures be large enough to allow captive animals exercise space similar to the expanses their counterparts enjoy in the wild.

The American Zoo and Aquarium Association, a zoo accreditation body, requires 400 square feet of indoor space per animal. It also calls for 1,800 square feet of outdoor space for the first elephant and 900 more square feet for each additional pachyderm.

Whether changes as proposed realistically can be expected remains in question.

Kathy Sexson, director of Lee Richardson Zoo, said elephants in the wild range over such large areas out of necessity, seeking food and water. In captivity, where their needs - physical and mental - are provided for, they don't need to travel as far.

Providing "miles and miles" of space for elephants would be nice, Sexson says, but zoos have space limitations. Moreover, she said, zoos aim to educate and foster stewardship of the globe's animals and that's not possible if an animal is out of the public eye - absent from a zoo or meandering in a hidden corner of a massive pen.

The zoo and aquarium association, in response to In Defense's petition, echoes Sexson's comments in citing a 2005 poll. Most respondents - 95 percent - say seeing elephants and rhinos helps generate a greater appreciation for them. As many agree that success in saving endangered species stems, at least in part, from the work of zoos.

Nonetheless, there's no dearth of efforts to radically alter the care of captive elephants.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which launched a now- dormant letter-writing campaign in 2004 to force Lee Richardson to get rid of Moki and Chana, seeks the complete transfer of elephants from zoos. The group wants the animals moved to spacious sanctuaries.

For now, though, the animal rights group focuses its efforts on an ordinance proposal in Chicago that requires five acres of indoor and five acres of outdoor space for captive elephants there.

In Defense, a nonprofit group, focuses on a range of animal issues, through protest, grassroots mobilization and legislative lobbying. It is much smaller in terms of annual revenues than PETA, famous for its use of celebrities and publicity stunts to push causes.

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