By Catherine Doyle,
PAWS (Performing Animal Welfare Society)
Since joining the PAWS team in November, as Director of Science, Research & Advocacy, I quickly learned there's never a dull moment, whether it's the rescue of more captive wildlife, caring for those individuals fortunate enough to be enjoying life at our sanctuaries, or advocating for wild animals suffering in inadequate facilities, circuses and other forms of "entertainment." In the advocacy area, we've seen non-stop action and some important advances for elephants.
In November, PAWS was featured in the Fifth Estate's "The Elephant In The Room", a no-holds-barred look at the controversy over keeping elephants in Canadian zoos. The Fifth Estate is Canada's premier investigative documentary show, and the response to the program was overwhelmingly favorable. Later in the month, the Toronto City Council demonstrated its confidence in PAWS by voting 32-8 to send elephants Thika, Toka and Iringa to a new, and more natural life, at ARK 2000. This was the second, and final, vote by the Council. The elephants are expected to arrive in the Spring.
The Seattle Times rocked the zoo world in December with an investigative report by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Michael Berens titled "Glamour Beasts: The dark side of elephant captivity." PAWS played a major role in the report, which concluded that elephants are not thriving in zoos and that some zoos will stop at nothing to breed more crowd-pleasing calves.
It wasn't long after Berens' report that we saw just how far some zoos will go. Shortly after the birth of a female calf at the Oregon Zoo, the Times ignited a firestorm by exposing a breeding contract between the zoo and the animal entertainment company Have Trunk Will Travel, giving ownership of the calf to the company. Have Trunk Will Travel rents out elephants for rides, circuses and films, and was caught on video striking elephants with bullhooks and using an electric shock device during training.
Public condemnation of the zoo was swift and the message was clear: People do not support zoos sending elephants to circuses or striking deals with animal entertainment enterprises like Have Trunk Will Travel. The Oregon Zoo reportedly is negotiating the purchase of the calf, and the price is likely to be astronomical. PAWS uncovered yet another contract between Have Trunk Will Travel and the Houston Zoo, showing that the zoo committed to pay half a million dollars for the adult female Tess. These contracts clearly reveal the clandestine relationships between some zoos and those who exploit elephants purely for profit.
PAWS has also played a leading role in advocating for an ordinance that would ban the use of elephants and bullhooks in traveling circuses that visit Los Angeles. We hope to see the ordinance voted on early in 2013; its passage would make Los Angeles the largest U.S. city with such a restriction. We will continue to support similar efforts in other cities as well. The latest city to ban the use of bullhooks is Hallandale Beach, Florida, which also outlawed the use of whips on tigers. Hallandale Beach joins Pompano Beach, Hollywood, and Margate in Florida, Fulton County in Georgia, and other municipalities nationwide in prohibiting the use of bullhooks.
This year promises to bring even more breakthroughs for elephants and other wild animals used for entertainment, and PAWS will be leading the way. We predict that we will see even more restrictions on the use of wild animals in circuses and more media exposés of the suffering of elephants in zoos, as well as an uncovering of the behind-the-scenes ties that exist between many zoos and circuses.
There is no question that the public's attitude toward the treatment of animals is changing. Through education, outreach and determined advocacy -- and with your continued support -- we can bring about that change even faster.