Animal Writes
From 26 September 2004 Issue

DawnWatch: The Question of Elephants in Zoos
on front page of Washington Post 9/21/04

For the second day in a row the Washington Post has an animal friendly story on the front page. The Tuesday, September 21 story is headed, "Seeking a Home That Fits; Elephants' Case Highlights Limits of Zoos."

The article looks at the Detroit Zoo's attempts to send its ailing elephants to sanctuary, as the American Zoo and Aquarium Association tries to strong-arm the zoo into sending them to another zoo instead, threatening loss of AZA membership if the Detroit Zoo does not comply.

Post reporter Marc Kaufman writes,
"Dismayed, the Detroit zoo this week made the first formal appeal ever of an AZA elephant placement decision. It is now marshaling supporters to try to convince the association that, when it comes to elephant care, it's time for change."

We learn:
"The dispute could have major implications for the way zoos operate and provide for their elephants, and for the future of elephants in many other zoos. Already, the controversy is being seen as a defining moment in the broadening national debate over animal welfare and animal rights."

And we read how different life in one of the sanctuaries, either the 100-acre elephant range in California or the 2,700-acre facility in Tennessee, would be for the elephants, compared to life in a concrete zoo. The opportunity to roam is not the only issue:

"In the sanctuaries, the animals are largely allowed to do as they choose. In addition, keepers and the animals never come into direct contact, and keepers use only positive enforcement methods to encourage the animals to behave. In many zoos, elephant keepers still have direct access to the animals inside their enclosures, a practice that requires some level of dominance and physical intimidation to train the animals and protect the keepers.

"One of Kagan's objections to moving Winky and Wanda to the Columbus zoo is that the facility -- acknowledged to be one of the nation's best for elephants -- nonetheless uses dominance techniques."

There is a lovely quote from Ron Kagan, director of the Detroit Zoo:
"We just don't see how threatening or punishing an elephant can be ever okay."

Kaufman mentions the similar situation in San Francisco, as that zoo attempts to send its elephants to sanctuary and comes up against the AZA. There is a nice quote from Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States:

"AZA is finding itself not just trying to contain a brushfire, but seeing the blaze break out all around the country."

That is an encouraging statement!

Kaufman goes further, "In resisting calls to send Wanda and Winky to a sanctuary, the AZA is also trying to stave off difficult questions being raised about keeping any elephants in captivity -- questions that could easily mushroom into a broader debate about rhinos or lions or other big mammals."

You can read the full article on line at: or on
the MSNBC website (the shorter link might work better) at: 

It presents a great opportunity for appreciative letters to the editor questioning the practice of keeping wild animals captive for human amusement. The Post takes letters at: [email protected] and instructs, "Letters must be exclusive to The Washington Post, and must include the writer's home address and home and business telephone numbers. Although we are unable to acknowledge those letters we cannot publish, we appreciate the interest and value the views of those who take the time to send us their comments."

Shorter letters are more likely to be published. But even unpublished letters serve a vital function -- they let editors know what kinds of stories (animal protection stories, for example) generate a lot of interest.

Yours and the animals',
Karen Dawn

(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at  To unsubscribe, go to  If you forward or
reprint DawnWatch alerts, please do so unedited -- leave DawnWatch in the title and include this tag line.)

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