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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

31 May 2004 Issue

Detroit Zoo To Free Elephants On Ethical Grounds
By Michael Ellis

DETROIT (Reuters) - The Detroit Zoo will become the first major zoo to stop exhibiting elephants on ethical grounds because they can develop arthritis and stress-related ailments in captivity, officials said on Thursday.

The Detroit Zoo has one of the largest facilities in the country, but its Asian elephants Winky and Wanda still have recurring foot problems due to the cold weather, Director Ron Kagen told Reuters.

In the wild, elephants roam vast areas, live in large families, and exhibit some of the same social traits as humans such as forming friendships and mourning for their dead.

"Elephants seem to be intelligent and even social in ways that are similar to humans," Kagen said. "Elephants can suffer from similar things to what we suffer from when we're in difficult environments."

Confined to zoos and circuses, elephants develop physical problems and neurotic behaviors such as rocking back and forth and aggressive behavior, he said.

"If we don't feel like we can (keep elephants), then the question is, who can and how?," he said. "For us, there really is a big question about whether elephants should be in captivity at all."

Kagen likens the change to the decision to stop performances by elephants and chimpanzees years ago at the zoo because of the stress it placed on the animals.

The zoo expects to send Winky and Wanda to an animal sanctuary this summer where they can roam with other elephants.

"I think it is an enormously important precedent," Wayne Pacelle, chief ef the treatment of elephants in other zoos and in circuses throughout the country."

Other zoos have also given away their elephants because they had health problems due to inadequate faculties, Pacelle said. But the Detroit Zoo is the first with sizable grounds and adequate care to end its elephant exhibit on ethical grounds, he said.

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