101 Dalmatian stories and rumors of elephants flying

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, Jan/Feb 1997:

If Walt Disney Inc. expected praise from animal
advocates for hitting the fur trade at the
outset of the winter sales season with a liveaction
edition of 101 Dalmatians, and for
offering a home to a family of African elephants
who might otherwise have been shot,
the corporate brass got an eye-opener in
November and early December.
Of the 27 nationally syndicated news
stories about 101 Dalmatians that ANIMAL
PEOPLE newswire editor Cathy Czapla forwarded
to our files during the 30 days after
101 Dalmatians debuted in theatres circa
November 14, 24 stories predicted the film
would generate such huge ill-informed
demand for the big, notoriously unruly dogs
that animal shelters would be overrun with
owner-surrendered Dalmatians within six
months to a year. Many asserted that the 1959
original had sparked just such a Dalmatian
boom––and then another, and another, with
each re-release, including the 1991 issue of a
home video version. At least six dog clubs
and 10 animal advocacy groups held press
conferences and/or faxed out press releases to
discuss the expected Dalmatian glut.

It was a great chance for animal
groups to hitch a ride on a bandwagon, promoting
responsible pet ownership, mixedbreed
adoptions, neutering, and breed rescue.
Disney danced to the tune, recruiting
Kathi Travers of the American SPCA to
produce a brochure on Dalmatian quirks and
dog adoption. All the hoopla, though perhaps
unexpected, kept 101 Dalmatians in the news
far longer than most new films, and the extra
attention probablly contributed to the recordsetting
success of 101 Dalmatians at the box
office, while furriers gnashed their teeth.
Disney never questioned whether the
claims about the impact of the original 1 0 1
D a l m a t i a n s were true. A precept of Disney
public relations policy is that no one ever wins
a fight with popular institutions, including
humane societies, and while Disney will stand
up to China for trying to block production of a
film about the Dalai Lama, or to the National
Rifle Association for trying to shoot down
B a m b i, challenging the Dalmatian stories
apparently never crossed the corporate mind.
But ANIMAL PEOPLE turned up
evidence that Disney could have fought the
claims, if so inclined. Aware that Dalmatians
have become a scarce breed, ranking closer to
the bottom than the top of recent American
Kennel Club registry charts, ANIMAL PEOPLE
projected from the registry statistics that
the number of Dalmatian breeding females in
the U.S. is probably not sufficient to produce a
discernable blip in either overall dog reproduction or shelter
intakes, now running at around three million dogs per year, of
whom about half are placed, the rest euthanized.
Then we cross-checked the guesstimate against reality.
Checking in 1993 to see how closely shelter dog intakes
might reflect the U.S. dog population as a whole, A N I M A L
P E O P L E tallied up 1,234 purebred admissions received by
four shelters around the U.S., roughly half coming in during
the two preceding years and the other half having come in
1985-1986. Overall, Dalmatians accounted for less than seven
tenths of one percent of the purebred admissions: less than 1%
before the 101 Dalmatians video, and less than 1% afterward.
The Disney people we talked with about 1 0 1
Dalmatians didn’t mind. “We just see Pongo and Purdy as representing
all dogs,” one said. “If talking about Dalmatians
helps keep mixed breeds out of shelters, that’s fine with us.”
Elephants 101
And then there were the elephants. On June 20,
1995, Walt Disney Attractions announced plans to build
Disney’s Wild Animal Kingdom, combining a state-of-the-art
zoo, an already operating marine mammal park, and an exhibition
of replica extinct creatures all in one big unit. As a whole,
it will be one of the largest animal exhibition venues in the
U.S., and one of the most advanced in the world.
Almost immediately Kathleen Mahoney of the
Animal Rights Foundation of Florida began a campaign against
the zoo component, founded chiefly on philosophical objection
to keeping wild animals captive. One of her allegations, attributed
to local contacts, was that Wild Animal Kingdom would
be taking animals from the wild, a relative rarity since the 1972
ratification of the Convention on International Trade in
Endangered Species and the 1973 passage of the Endangered
Species Act ended the “Frank Buck Bring ‘em back alive” era
and obliged zoos to establish today’s rigorously controlled
Species Survival Plans, with the twofold goal of maintaining
healthy exhibition populations and maintaining a captive
reserve of endangered species, to preserve, as American Zoo
Association conservation and science director Michael
Hutchins puts it, “the possibilities of future evolution.”
In August 1995, ANIMAL PEOPLE a s k e d
Disney’s Wild Animal Kingdom to keep us posted about animal
acquisition and facilities development. Several Disney
staffers promised they would. In early December 1995, Disney
spokesperson Kim Sams told us of the chance that some
African elephants and hippotamuses would be rescued from a
South Africa culling program. We published her statement on
page 16 of our January/February 1996 edition.
Wild Animal Kingdom director of animal programs
Rick Barongi added clarifying details on December 22, 1995.
“Almost all the mammals and birds that come to our park will
be captive-bred in American Zoo Association-accredited zoos,”
he wrote. “The only exceptions to this plan would be in the
case of animals who are doomed in their present habitat, would
be culled, or are confiscated wildlife orphans who cannot be
reintroduced back into their native habitat. At this time,”
Barongi continued, “the only animals whom we may take
directly out of Africa are a group of elephants and hippos from
the National Parks Board of South Africa. These would be animals
who otherwise would be destroyed by the wildlife authorities.
If we did undertake this operation, we would have the
experienced biologists and veterinarians from the Parks Board
coordinate the entire operation. In return for the assistance by
Park officials, we would donate money to the National Parks
Board of South Africa to improve and expand upon their conservation
programs so that less animals will have to be
destroyed in the future. I visited South Africa last year to
inspect their facilities,” he added, “and was extremely
impressed with the experience and ethics of their staff.”
South Africa has routinely culled “surplus” elephants
since 1970––and has used the availability of tusks obtained
through culling as an argument against the CITES ban on elephant
ivory trafficking, in effect since 1989.
“A population of elephants can increase by 5% every
year,” Parks Board director of research and development
Anthony Hall-Martin argued recently in the London Times.
“This is all very well if they have unlimited land. If they are
confined to a finite area, herds of elephants can wreak enormous
damage on trees and shrubs; insects, small mammals
and birds can also be affected. In South Africa,” Hall-Martin
explained, “all the national parks are fenced off to keep the
animals in. Our elephants cannot be permitted to wander, and
we must keep their numbers under control to protect the other
species. There has to be a trade-off. At present, South Africa
has an elephant population of 10,000, on 2.5 million hectares
of land. We have only half a million acres left for expansion.
Many argue that in five years’ time, this will not be enough.”
Hall-Martin said the options were “contraception,
transportation, and culling. Because available scientific evidence
is not strong enough to support culling at present population
densities,” he continued, “we have decided to stop,” after
culling about 150 elephants in 1995. Two different forms of
contraception, he said, “are still in the early stages of development.
Our second option,” he went on, “is to transport the
animals to other African countries, such as Mozambique,
whose wildlife has been destroyed by civil war.” About 100
South African elephants were transported in 1995, at estimated
cost of about $3,000 apiece. On top of the moving cost, “It
costs South Africa $100 per square kilometer each year to protect
our elephant population,” Hall-Martin concluded. “Many
African countries,” including Mozambique, “simply could not
afford to spend this kind of money.”
Lethal wallop
Bill Clark, foreign affairs representative for Friends
of Animals, calls Hall-Martin’s case “disingenuous.” For
many years, while South Africa defended rigid racial separation,
the Parks Board culling program provided legal cover for
poaching rings run by the South African military officials who
directed clandestine efforts to destabilize the black African-led
regimes of Angola and Mozambique. Elephants were poached
in connection with military operations. Their tusks were smuggled
into South Africa, and then sold as being ostensibly of
South African origin. As the poaching and fighting in
Mozambique intensified, the Mozambiquan elephant population
fled south, according to Clark––into Kruger National Park,
where the Parks Board “protected” them by building an “antipoaching”
electic fence.
“This isn’t your everyday livestock fence,” Clark
stipulates. “It delivers a lethal wallop. Now the fighting is over
and Mozambique is returning to normal. The human refuges
are home, but the elephants can’t go back home unless South
Africa takes the fence down, and South Africa doesn’t want to
take the fence down because they want to cull the elephants. If
they can get a proposal to reopen the ivory traffic through
CITES, those elephants are a very valuable asset.”
Claiming a need to sell elephant ivory and hunting
permits to fund elephant conservation, South Africa, Botswana,
and Zimbabwe are mounting their third determined drive
to repeal the ivory ban at the 1997 CITES triannual meeting––
with support of the World Wildlife Fund, which advances
ivory sales and trophy hunting as cornerstones of “sustainable
use,” and the U.S. government, whose delegation will be
headed by vice president and “sustainable use” advocate Albert
Gore. The CITES meeting is to be held in Harare, Zimbabwe.
Already, organizations opposed to the ivory traffic are complaining
that the official arrangements tend to exclude them
from traditional opportunities to informally interact with the
governmental representatives.

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