More heat on zoos to end elephant exhibits after Maggie leaves Alaska

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2007:
SAN ANDREAS, Calif.–The long-awaited relocation of the lone
Alaska Zoo elephant from Anchorage to the Performing Animal Welfare
Society sanctuary near San Andreas, California was completed on
November 1, 2007 without complications.
Maggie, 25, had been alone at the Alaska Zoo since the
December 1997 death of her companion, Annabelle–with whom Maggie
reputedly did not get along.
Annabelle, 33, died from complications of a chronic foot
ailment common to elephants who spend most of their lives standing on
hard surfaces. A similar fate was widely predicted for Maggie, who
arrived at the Alaska Zoo from Kruger National Park in South Africa
in 1983. Her family had been shot in a cull.
The Alaskan climate obliged Maggie to spend most of her time
indoors. In California, “By mid-morning, Maggie was swinging her
trunk around her new barn, checking out the unfamiliar sights and
sounds,” wrote Megan Holland of the Anchorage Daily News. “By
mid-afternoon, she was sunbathing, eating green grass, and chasing
birds. On the sanctuary’s webcam, viewers watched other African
elephants meander up to a fence that separated them from Maggie. By
late afternoon, Maggie was walking up close to them, even raising
her trunk over the fence, seemingly to touch them.”
Retired television game show host Bob Barker donated $750,000
to fund the relocation–$400,000 for immediate expenses, the rest
for longterm care.


Zoo directors around the world are watching to see what
becomes of the Alaska Zoo without a resident elephant. The zoo was
built around the elephant exhibit, and although it has many other
exotic animals, including camels and Himalayan snow leopards,
Maggie was the animal visitors were most interested in seeing.
The Alaska Zoo had reportedly spent about $1.3 million to try
to improve her quality of life, but the American Zoo Association
nonetheless recommended in early 2005 that she should be relocated to
a mainland zoo, where she could have companions. However, the AZA
wanted her to become part of a captive breeding program. She will
not be bred at PAWS.
Thirteen U.S. zoos, including those in Detroit, San
Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York, have either closed elephant
exhibits in recent years or have announced plans to close them when
the elephants they now have either die or can be relocated to more
appropriate habitats.
Maggie was the third zoo elephant to be moved to a sanctuary
in 2007, and the second to go to PAWS, following Ruby, 46, the
last African elephant at the Los Angeles Zoo. PAWS also received
the last elephants from the San Francisco Zoo and the Detroit Zoo,
in March and April 2005.
The PAWS elephant collection also includes seven
Asian elephants. The two most recent arrivals, Nicholas and Gypsy,
arrived in April 2007 as part of the final dissolution of the
Hawthorn Corporation, a circus elephant rental, training, and
boarding company operated for 50 years by John Cuneo, 76, of
Richmond, Illinois. Cuneo had agreed in 2004 to settle 47 alleged
violations of the U.S. federal Animal Welfare Act by divesting of
his 16 elephants, but placing Nicholas and Gypsy proved particularly
difficult because their history included exposure to tuberculosis.
Actor Robert Culp and real estate agent Aaron Leider
in August 2007 sued the Los Angeles Zoo and the city of Los Angeles
to try to block construction of a new $40 million elephant exhibit,
scheduled to open in November 2009.
While the Los Angeles Zoo no longer has African
elephants, it still has one Asian elephant bull, and according to
zoo public relations and marketing director Jason Jacobs, is
“committed” to keeping elephants.
“We want them to close the existing exhibits, acquire no
more elephants and spend the money more wisely,” pro bono attorney
David Casselman told Los Angeles Times staff writer Carla Hall.
Of the six acres set aside for the new elephant exhibit,
only 3.6 acres will actually be elephant habitat.
Older U.S. zoo elephant habitats are seldom larger than one
acre. Most are measured in square feet rather than in parts of
acres. Among newer habitats, the Oakland Zoo now offers four
African elephants about five acres. The Sedgwick County Zoo in
Wichita, Kansas plans to open a 3.6-acre habitat in 2009 that will
house seven elephants. The Denver Zoo is adding a 10-acre elephant
exhibit costing $52 million.
Because elephants have bred notoriously poorly in zoos, the
Sedgewick County Zoo, Denver Zoo, and eight other major zoos in
March 2007 announced that they would collaborate to acquire the
330-acre Riddle’s Elephant & Wildlife Sanctuary, near Quitman,
Arkansas, and convert it into a breeding, research, and holding
facility called the National Elephant Sanctuary.
Operated by former zoo elephant managers Scott and Heidi
Riddle since 1991, Riddle’s Elephant & Wildlife Sanctuary has
financially struggled, with a cumulative operating deficit of more
than $41,000 from 2003 through 2005. From 1994 to 2005 the sanctuary
hosted Riddles’ International School for Elephant Management, which
taught techniques –including use of electroshock–that were widely
regarded as outmoded and unnecessarily violent.
The National Elephant Sanctuary expected to take over the
facilities in mid-2007, but Scott Riddle, 64, cautioned Cathy
Frye of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the $3.7 million sale of
the property was “still in the discussion stages. Nothing is a done
deal.” Almost a year after the National Elephant Sanctuary on
December 27, 2006 signed a letter of intent to buy Riddle’s Elephant
& Wildlife Sanctuary, nothing further about the transaction had been
announced.

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