Keeping elephants out of sanctuaries
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2004:
DETROIT, SAN FRANCISCO–American Zoo Association director
Sydney Butler has warned the Detroit Zoo and San Francisco Zoo that
the AZA “fundamentally disagrees” with their decisions to retire two
elderly elephants each to sanctuaries, and will “vigorously enforce
our professional ethics and accreditation standards” if the elephants
are moved contrary to the dictates of the AZA Species Survival Plan
Detroit Zoo director Ron Kagan on May 19, 2000 announced
that the elephants Winky, 51, and Wanda, 40-something, would be
sent to the Elephant Sanctuary at Hohenwald, Tennessee, founded and
directed by former circus performer Carol Buckley.
The elephants would go from their present one-acre enclosure
to a 2,700-acre facility where they could live among a matriarchal
herd almost as if wild.
The Elephant Sanctuary has nine elephants now: six Asians,
“Kagan’s intent drew widespread public praise, but alarmed
many in the zoo community who believe that zoos are fully capable of
providing good lives for elephants,” understated Detroit Free Press
writer Hugh McDiarmid Jr.
Transferring any elephants outside the AZA-accredited zoo
network could become an influential argument for transferring any
elephants whose situations are less than ideal–and elephants are
perhaps the leading gate attractions at any zoo, but are in ever
The average lifespan of an AZA zoo elephant is 36 years,
according to AZA spokesperson Jane Ballentine. Most elephants now in
the U.S. were captured before the U.S. ratification of the
Convent-ion on International Trade in Endangered Species in 1972 and
passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973 virtually cut off
further imports. These elephants are now middle-aged to elderly,
and have been dying at a rate far exceeding successful reproduction.
Only a handful of zoo-born elephants have survived to maturity, and
only 11 have been imported in the past 32 years, all of them in 2003.
(See “Live elephant exports,” page 20.)
The San Antonio Zoo soon pointed out that it, not the Detroit Zoo,
is Wanda’s legal owner, that she was sent to Detroit eight years ago
on loan, not deeded over, and that she could be reclaimed.
The AZA Species Survival Plan committee eventually decided
that Winky and Wanda should go to the Columbus Zoo, which now has
five other elephants on four acres.
While the arrival of Windy and Wanda was indefinitely delayed
and perhaps permanently forestalled, the Elephant Sanctuary expected
to receive two retired performing elephants named Misty and Lota from
the Hawthorn Corporation on July 28.
Hawthorn Corporation owner John Cuneo, 73, on March 7
signed a con sent decree settlement of Animal Welfare Act charges
that obliged him to divest of all 16 of his elephants by August 15.
But that didn’t happen either.
“Two days prior to Lota and Misty’s scheduled arrival at the
Sanctuary,” Buckley said, and weeks after the Tennessee state
veterinarian issued an import permit for both elephants, “he
initiated an investigation to determine if Lota and Misty, both
infected with the human strain of tuberculosis, pose a threat to the
state’s wildlife or cattle industry.
“It should be noted that there is no documented case of deer
or cattle contracting the strain of tuberculosis that these elephants
have,” Buckey added.
As of mid-September, the results of the veterinary
investigation were still pending. Cuneo meanwhile filed an appeal of
the divestment order, so the remaining 14 elephants are also
unlikely to go anywhere in the near future.
The San Francisco Zoo board of directors decided in late June
to send Lula and Tinkerbelle, both 38 and imported in 1966, to the
2,300-acre Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary in San
Lulu, from Africa, would share 75 acres and a lake with two other
African elephants. Tinkerbelle, from Thailand, would share 40
acres with three other Asian elephants.
The AZA has not announced its preferred destinations for Lulu
The AZA Species Survival Plan committee in May 2003 ordained
that the African elephant Ruby, 42, was to be separated from Geeta,
her Asian elephant companion of 16 years, and relocated to the
Knoxville Zoo in Tennessee to become matriarch of a herd of younger
African elephants who have never had calves.
Ark Trust founder Gretchen Wyler, now heading the Hollywood
office of the Humane Society of the U.S., unsuccessfully sued the
Los Angeles Zoo to try to block the transfer.
After 14 months in Knoxville, Ruby has still not integrated
herself into the Knoxville Zoo herd. Los Angeles mayor James K. Hahn
in July requested that she be returned to Los Angeles as soon as the
trip can be arranged.
Ringling thumps 15-year-old
Circuses too are jealously guarding their possession and use
of elephants and other animals against animal advocacy, as
15-year-old Heather Herman learned on August 10 in Denver. Herman,
an Arvada High School freshman, shocked the circus world by
collecting enough petition signatures to place a proposed ban on the
use of performing animals on the Denver primary election ballot.
Winning support from primatologist Jane Goodall, the Humane
Society of the U.S., and the Denver Dumb Friends League, Herman and
friends raised and spent $47,000 in their effort to push the ban
through–but Feld Entertainment, owner of the Ringling Brothers
Barnum & Bailey Circus, reportedly spent $175,000 to defeat it.
The pro-circus side won 71.6% of the vote, but didn’t really
win the battle. Activists partially inspired by Herman’s effort won
bans on animal acts in Burlington, Vermont, and Buenos Aires,
Argentina during the first week of September.
…while young lion dies
Ringling spokespersons meanwhile found themselves having to
explain at every stop why a two-year-old lion named Clyde died aboard
the circus train on July 13 en route from Phoenix to Fresno by way of
the the Mojave desert.
A necropsy was inconclusive about the cause of death, but
veteran circus animal handler Frank Hagan told the USDA and PETA in
affidavits that he warned his supervisor beginning at about 9:30 a.m.
that the animals on the train were becoming overheated, and that the
train should stop to water them down. By the time the train did
stop, circa 2:45 p.m., Hagan said, Clyde was terminal.
“Hagan said he was interviewed the next day about the
incident by lawyers from Feld Entertainment,” reported Marc Kaufman
of the Washington Post.
“He said USDA inspectors arrived July 16 and that Ringling’s
lawyers ‘kept those of us with knowledge of the lion’s death away
from the USDA and instructed us not to speak to the inspectors.’ The
day before federal inspectors arrived, Hagan said, the circus
installed a system to spray cooling mist in the car where Clyde died.”
“Hagan said he was fired by the circus within a week after
supervisors told him several times to keep quiet about the ‘Clyde
incident,'” Kaufman added.
Feld Entertainment vice president of circus operations Jim
Andacht wrote to the Washington Post on August 14 that Hagan
“misrepresented the events” and made “false allegations that our
company and employees were withholding information from the USDA.
Feld Entertainment always cooperates fully with USDA officials,”
But Associated Press reporter Adam Goldman disclosed on
August 24 that Feld Entertainment, also the producers of the now
terminated Siegfried & Roy illusionist extravaganza at the Mirage
hotel/casino in Las Vegas, has refused to share with USDA
investigators a video of the October 3, 2003 mauling of performer
Roy Horn by a 300-pound white tiger.
As of September 8, Goldman wrote, U.S. Senator Harry Reid
(D-Nevada) was trying to persuade the USDA to settle for watching the
video with Feld personnel, without actually obtaining a copy of it.
“Feld has declined to turn over the video, saying the
performers wanted to ‘avoid images of this tragic accident being
accessible to children and families all around the world,'” said
Another explanation may be that if the USDA obtains the
video, activists might be able to get copies via the Freedom of