Friday, February 12, 2010

PETA objects to elephant's transfer to Toledo Zoo

Toledo has a new elephant, but PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, isn't happy.

I'm not on PETA's mailing list, but figured they sent the following email to multiple sources, including bloggers in the Toledo area:

Good afternoon.

This morning, PETA fired off a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Administrator Chester A. Gipson, DVM, calling on the agency to transfer rescued elephants only to facilities that can meet their care requirements and that are superior to the ones they were rescued from. The request stems from the agency's problematic decision to transfer an elephant named Twiggy from a cruel circus to the Toledo Zoo. While PETA applauds the USDA for removing Twiggy from an abusive situation, it points out that the Toledo Zoo still uses an archaic and cruel circus-style elephant management system that's based on dominance, fear, and pain—a system that other zoos have rejected.

Ohio's freezing winter weather is detrimental to elephants' well-being, and the zoo's cramped enclosure causes stress and sets elephants up for incompatibility issues—as was the case with an elephant who had previously been kept at the Toledo Zoo. The elephant, Rafiki, had to be removed and was sent to the North Carolina Zoo in 2003.

PETA's letter to the USDA follows.

Best regards,

Robbyn Brooks


February 12, 2010

Chester A. Gipson, DVM
Deputy Administrator
4700 River Rd., Unit 84
Riverdale, MD 20737-1234

Via fax and e-mail

Dear Dr. Gipson:

We are writing to thank your agency for the recent confiscation of the elephant Twiggy from USDA licensee Julius Von Uhl in Macy, Ind., license #32-C-0102, but to express our concern about Twiggy's transfer to the Toledo Zoo. Had the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary or The Elephant Sanctuary declined to take Twiggy before you decided on the Toledo Zoo? I'm sure you agree that the USDA should not be transferring confiscated animals from one bad situation to another.

The Toledo Zoo is one of the minority of accredited zoos that still manages elephants using an outdated, circus-style form of elephant management that consists of dominance and the imposition of fear, both of which are established by the barbaric use of bullhooks. By design, a bullhook has only one purpose—to inflict pain—and abuse with these weapons is not uncommon in zoos. Although the most egregious bullhook abuse takes place behind the scenes, numerous horrific incidents have been revealed at accredited zoos including the following:

* In June 2002, a 1-year-old elephant named Hansa was struck repeatedly with a bullhook and ran screaming into a public viewing area at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.

* In November 2001, Dickerson Park Zoo paid a $5,000 fine to settle charges of violating the Animal Welfare Act in connection with the beating of the elephant Chai, who was on a breeding loan. According to a witness, the elephant was beaten for two and a half hours with bullhooks and pieces of wood.

* In November 2000, the Oregon Zoo paid a $10,000 federal fine for the beating of a 5-year-old elephant named Rose-Tu. A police report found that Rose-Tu sustained 176 gashes and cuts after being repeatedly struck with a bullhook.

* A videotape showed that Sissy, an elephant at El Paso Zoo, was tightly chained and beaten for hours, sometimes so hard that she collapsed from the blows. In February 2000, the City of El Paso paid a $20,000 fine to settle charges of violating the Animal Welfare Act.

* In 1993, a videotape showed two elephants at the Milwaukee Zoo, Tammy and Annie, screaming with pain and fear as they were stretched out with block and tackle while being beaten by trainers wielding bullhooks.

* In 1988, the elephant Dunda at the San Diego Wild Animal Park was "disciplined" by chaining her four feet, pulling her to her knees and beating her with bullhooks and ax handles.

There are currently two African elephants at the Toledo Zoo, an adult female named Renee and her son Louie, who is almost 7 years old. In October 2003, the Toledo Zoo sent the African elephant Rafiki to the North Carolina Zoo because she and Renee reportedly stopped getting along after Louie was born. Rafiki and Renee had been companions since 1986, yet zoo staffers were apparently unable to mitigate conflicts that can arise as a result of changes in a herd in order to keep these long-time friends together. It's difficult to believe that they will have the skills or the space necessary to conduct a safe and humane introduction between Renee, Louie, and Twiggy, who will be complete strangers.

Finally, Ohio's freezing winter weather is wholly unsuitable for elephants and relegates the animals to spending extended periods of time indoors, where their freedom of movement is severely restricted. Such forced inactivity causes muscular-skeletal ailments, arthritis, and foot and joint diseases—which are crippling and killing captive elephants.

Since animals are presumably confiscated because they have been subjected to grossly substandard conditions for an extended period of time and are often debilitated as a result, it's essential that they be transferred only to facilities that can and will provide them with top-notch care. It is what the animals deserve, and the USDA's responsibilities in such instances call for no less. As such, we respectfully request that the USDA transfer confiscated elephants only to facilities that use protected-contact elephant management; have the necessary resources, staff experience, and abundant space; and can provide an appropriate climate for elephants.

May we please hear from you about this matter?

Thank you for your time.


Lisa Wathne
Captive Exotic Animal Specialist


Mad Jack said...

PETA? Oh, man...

When I lived in Pierre, SD the ladies from PETA promised us a naked demonstration to protest the varmint hunters association and related shooting of coyotes, wolves, prairie dogs and other related varmints. Well sir, every cowboy in a 50 mile radius took the day off to come to town, have a nice, leisurely lunch with a beer and a shot and maybe another, then get a good spot to watch and see the big naked PETA demonstration.

PETA never showed.

Since then I've lost all confidence in PETA and don't care a whit what they say about anything. I think some of those cowboys will never really recover from the terrible disappointment they had to endure over that naked demonstration that never happened.

Maggie Thurber said...

Mad Jack - I have serious issues with PETA and many of their positions, but I must admit that they've raised a valid point in this objection.

If the Toledo Zoo had to transfer one of its elephants in the past because of compatibility issues, what makes anyone think there won't be similar issues with a new elephant?

Does Louie's age change the circumstances? Was it a problem when he was born but now that he's older, the problem has gone away?

I don't know, but I think they're good questions to ask.

Greenracks said...

If Louie has not been neutered he might exhibit problems when he goes into "must". Maybe this Twiggy might be a potential mate.

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