Sunday, July 29, 2007

In Defense of Animals Threatens to Sue California City if Elephants go to Six Flags through Sale of Discovery Kingdom

Sad that we need to discuss living beings as part of a sale, but that’s the way it is.

Article:

Animal rights group wants elephants to go to sanctuary

http://www.timesheraldonline.com/ci_6488556

By J.M. BROWN/Times-Herald staff writer
Article Launched: 07/28/2007 08:58:15 AM PDT

A day before the city's sale of Discovery Kingdom to Six Flags, animal rights advocates will try to convince city officials not to sell four elephants they allege have suffered inhumane treatment at the theme park.

Because terms of the sale agreement were inked years ago, City Manager Joe Tanner said he is "skeptical" he can remove the elephants from the deal, which is set to be finalized Tuesday. But, on Monday, "we plan to listen to what they have to say, and if our attorney agrees, maybe we'll do something," Tanner said.

In Defense of Animals has threatened to file a federal lawsuit against the city, accusing it of violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing the alleged mistreatment of two Asian elephants. IDA has demanded the elephants - along with two African elephants also living at the park - be transferred to a sanctuary.

Six Flags will oppose taking the elephants out of the sale agreement, but the company's legal officials are still reviewing its options, spokeswoman Nancy Chan said. Park officials have long claimed the elephants are well taken care of and actually benefit from captivity through conservation of the species.

But IDA claims that recently obtained medical records show the pachyderms have
numerous health problems associated with confinement and could die if subjected to breeding programs that have caused previous elephant deaths at the park. IDA also said the animals suffer when performing entertainment tasks, such as riding and tug of war.

Chan said IDA has misinterpreted the medical reports with its own "spin."

"It basically comes down to, unfortunately, their word against ours," Chan said. "We are the ones that care for the elephants and we know exactly what is going on."

Suzanne Roy, program director for IDA, said the purchase agreement has several loopholes that could allow the city to retain the elephants before the sale is final, then send the animals to a rehabilitation facility.

Roy said lawyers working with IDA say the city could remove the elephants from the deal as a potential claim against the sale or could argue that the "city's property interest in the elephants has been called into question and the city cannot deliver clear title to the elephants until the issue is resolved."

In June, Six Flags announced it would exercise its option to buy the city's $55 million interest in the 135-acre park, which has been operated through a joint revenue sharing agreement since it moved from Redwood City in the mid 1980s. Vallejo will still receive a fee for hosting the park formerly known as Marine World.

Although IDA has long argued that using elephants for entertainment purposes is inhumane, Roy said the timing of the sale - plus medical evidence only recently made available through public records requests - made now the time to act.

The IDA claims that the alleged mistreatment of the animals constitutes an "illegal take" of an endangered species.

"We hope that we wouldn't have to resort to litigation," Roy said. "We will present the city with enough compelling evidence that (a sanctuary) will be a much better situation for the elephants, and the city has responsibility to do right by them."

IDA has found a sympathetic ear in Councilwoman Stephanie Gomes, who visited the elephants last weekend in response to recent concerns from citizens about their treatment.

While she said she felt the elephants were well fed and taken care of, Gomes said she did not believe "elephants belong in small enclosures with roller coasters all around them and children sitting on their backs, playing tug of war was an appropriate use."

But, Gomes said, "the sale has already been concluded, so it doesn't matter what I think. Our hands have been tied."

IDA was successful at encouraging zoos in San Francisco and Los Angeles to move elephants to sanctuaries without invoking the Endangered Species Act, Roy said. "We're hoping (Vallejo) will realize its responsibility to these elephants," she added.

IDA has to wait 60 days from the date of its July 25 letter to the city before filing legal action using the Endangered Species Act. The law can only be used to seize the Asian elephants at Discovery Kingdom - Liz and Taj - because its African elephants - Malaika and Tava - are listed as a "threatened species."

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