Zoo Vs. Sanctuary: An Ethical Consideration
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Zoo Vs. Sanctuary: An Ethical Consideration

Zoo Vs. Sanctuary: PAWS Response to AZA

Sanctuary Vs. Zoo

Monday, September 13, 2004

By Pat Derby, Director & Founder of The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)

The recent outburst of patronizing, pompous and misguided articles regarding the proposed transfer of four aging elephants from AZA (American Zoo& Aquarium) accredited facilities to sanctuaries has prompted me to break a long and patient silence to respond to the discrepant remarks of Michael Hutchins, PhD, the AZA Department of Conservation and Science.

My intent in writing this article is the same as Dr. Hutchins'. I am citing examples that graphically illustrate the differences between some AZA accredited zoos and sanctuaries. The decision of a few AZA zoos to send elephants to sanctuaries demonstrates that AZA and Dr. Hutchins do not necessarily reflect the opinions of all AZA accredited zoos although they are bound by an agreement to abide by decisions with which they may not concur. Indeed, there is a wide diversity of opinion and ethical concern within the AZA community which, if not addressed immediately, will exacerbate even further the anger and frustration of those "zoo professionals, government officials and members of the public who have supported the transfer of selected elephants to sanctuaries."

DIFFERENCES

Dr. Hutchins states: "There are many factors that must be considered, including enclosure complexity and environmental enrichment, group and composition, training, safety, veterinary care, nutrition, and so forth, when evaluating the quality of any elephant management program."

Space: Milwaukee County Zoo, an AZA accredited facility considered "state-of-the-art" by AZA and Dr. Hutchins, housed four Asian elephants, Lota, Moola, Tammy and Annie in an antiquated, undersized enclosure which provided no environmental enrichment or complexity. The enclosure was so small and so poorly designed, albeit accredited by AZA, that Lota was constantly pushing Tammy into the moat. The keepers, all members of AZA's highly lauded Elephant Management Association, conducted daily training sessions where elephants were drawn to the floor by block and tackles and beaten with heavy metal bullhooks until the walls were bloody and Tammy was so exhausted she could not stand. The battered elephants did, however, receive medical treatment after these "training sessions" which may indicate that the zoo's veterinary care marks were high, although I question the ethics of veterinarians who could witness these atrocious attacks on an endangered species supposedly protected by AZA and not report them. A few concerned keepers sought help for the elephants from the media and animal welfare organizations.

The indoor quarters at this zoo where the elephants were confined on chains on cold, wet concrete for the long, harsh winters and most nights provided even less complexity and environmental enrichment. Lota's main escape from boredom was her relentless pursuit of Tammy. It was quite obvious to zoo management that something must be done. They listed Lota as surplus, AZA's euphemism for unwanted animals, and waited for the Elephant Species Survival Plan (SSP) to assist in placing Lota. When it was determined that no AZA facilities had space or the desire to take Lota, the zoo negotiated with the Hawthorn Corporation, an agency that rents elephants and tigers to circuses, to take her. While the transfer of Lota, age 44, to a circus shocked and appalled the animal welfare community, AZA had no issues with the transaction. Lota was dragged out of her barn on ropes, falling upside down at one point, and loaded, bleeding, into a truck. A prime example of professional elephant management and training conducted by a particularly cruel consultant, the loading of Lota and her resultant injuries was deplorable to animal protectionists but dismissed as minor by AZA professionals and the zoo's elephant expert consultant.

Lota has traveled and performed with various mud show circuses since that time, contracting TB and steadily losing weight. The poor condition and health of the elephants, including Lota, owned by the Hawthorn Corporation has finally prompted an investigation by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and all elephants will be placed at other facilities.

It is particularly ironic that Dr. Hutchins uses the Hawthorn elephants as an example of his concerns about TB, staffing & funding at the sanctuaries he is opposing. I have long contended that Lota's plight is the sole responsibility of the Milwaukee County Zoo, its director who made the decision to send her to Hawthorn and the AZA who supported that decision while opposing sending Tammy & Annie to PAWS. Perhaps AZA and the Milwaukee County Zoo would like to contribute to Lota's treatment and care for the rest of her lifetime or, since the thought of sending AZA elephants to sanctuaries is so repugnant, she could be returned to Milwaukee Zoo to live in the antiquated, substandard facility that was her home for many years.

AZA has never reprimanded or threatened Milwaukee County Zoo with revocation of its accreditation for the transfer of Lota to the Hawthorn Corporation, but they did threaten disciplinary action when the Milwaukee County Executive, after viewing video tapes of the inhumane training sessions at the zoo, mandated that the two remaining Asian elephants, Tammy & Annie be transferred to the PAWS sanctuary in Galt, CA. , a four acre, natural habitat facility with pools, grass, trees, mud, dirt for dusting and heated floors in the barns. PAWS staff and veterinarians developed a regimen of daily foot soaks and treatment for Tammy's foot problems and arthritis. She gained weight and both elephants began to exhibit natural behaviors and vocalizations that were so unfamiliar to the "trained professionals from the zoo" who came to visit that they mistakenly mistook Annie's exuberant trumpeting as anger.

Tammy & Annie came to PAWS in 1995 where they lived until Tammy's death in 2003 at age 53 of degenerative joint disease, a common and fatal ailment among zoo elephants. Annie, age 48, now lives at the PAWS 2300 acre sanctuary in San Andreas, CA. sharing a one hundred acre enclosure with two other Asian elephants, Minnie and Rebecca and two African elephants, 71 & Mara.

Annie's socialization with Minnie & Rebecca was a slow, careful process effected easily with the many stalls, hydraulic gates and yards that allowed the elephants to greet, explore, smell and communicate through adjacent areas. Today all three roam the large Asian habitat together.

Sadly, the transfer of Ruby, an elephant who was moved from Los Angeles Zoo to Knoxville Zoo with the full support of the AZA and SSP has failed miserably because there was no plan and no physical plant like the PAWS' barn to facilitate socialization. Ruby has suffered unnecessarily because of the intransigent attitude of the AZAinsisting that Ruby be sent to an accredited facility with limited areas for socialization rather than a sanctuary with the capability to improve her quality of life. One wonders how this pedantic decision can be construed as " contributing to professional and humane animal management and care".

Breeding: Dr. Hutchins states: " Elephant sanctuaries typically do not breed animals or transfer them to other facilities for the purposes of genetic management. Most animals going to sanctuaries are on a one-way trip and will remain there for the rest of their lives. This is consistent with a sanctuary's sole focus on individual animal welfare.

In contrast, the focus of AZA and its members is both on the welfare of individuals and the population as a whole, both in zoos and in nature."

AZA zoos have been passing elephants around like baseball cards, trading individuals who have bonded with companions for years to be dragged into vehicles, transported away from familiar surroundings and companions, traumatized with the sudden appearance of new elephant and human companions, different environments and climates and, at times, (this happened to our Annie) an aggressive bull who attacks them or the unpleasant procedures involved with artificial insemination.

If captive breeding programs were incredibly successful,producing a profusion ofhealthy calves, there would be little, if any, benefit to wild elephant populations and the resultant surplus bull elephants would certainly be in need of sanctuary. The AZA should be aware of this dilemma since some of the more prolific breeding institutions like Portland Zoo have for many years been sending surplus bulls and cows to circuses and other facilities with clearly questionable standards of care.

Fortunately, the breeding frenzy in most AZA facilities has produced few calves who have lived; most ofthose who have survived have been torn away from their mothers and companions and shipped out at an age deemed unconscionable by elephant experts who see wild female calves living with their families for a lifetime and males for considerably longer than two years.

If the Elephant SSP had a plan which would allow groups of elephants from cooperating zoos to live in one vast area, breed and raise their calves in a natural setting without disturbing the family unit, there would be some justification for captive breeding to enrich the lives of the elephants. To suggest that the ghoulish and traumatic programs that SSP is producing "focuses on both the welfare of the individual and the population as a whole, both in zoos and in nature", is a vapid circumlocution when wild elephants are overpopulating their diminishing habitat, zoos are capturing wild species for breeding and most scientists are advocating culling as a viable means of controlling populations.

Dr. Hutchins reference to the successful births at Disney's Animal Kingdom and the San Diego Wild

Animal Park reflect the deception that is constantly perpetrated as part of a carefully conceived public relations campaign to justify the capture of wild elephants from their natural habitat. I doubt that any of the elephants who saw their herds slaughtered as they were captured find solace in their role as "animal ambassadors", and the old African elephants who were captured years ago to fill that role at the Wild Animal Park must wish they had been on a "one-way trip" as they shiver in the freezing climate of Chicago. This is hardly "humane animal management". Happily, Dr. Hutchins is correct, "sanctuary elephants that are not allowed to breed will never have these opportunities."

Accreditation: Dr. Hutchins focuses great attention on AZA Standards for Elephant Management and Care which were established in 2001 and updated in 2003. While it is commendable that AZA finally realized there was a need for these standards, it is ludicrous that many AZA accredited facilities still do not meet these incredibly minimal husbandry and behavioral guidelines and have for many years maintained elephants in totally unacceptable environments causing serious physical damage and death to countless individuals. In the twenty years that the PAWS sanctuaries have housed elephants, we have always exceeded these pitiful standards which AZA took so long to produce.

Dr. Hutchins states that the long term financial stability of a zoological institution is of particular interest to AZA's Accreditation Commission yet the continuing complaint of zoos with substandard elephant housing is their inability to fund improvements for the animals in their care. Today, with the availability of city, state and federal funds at a record low, many zoos are making drastic budget cuts, eliminating species from their collections, floating bond issues and some are closing.

It is incredibly disingenuous of Dr. Hutchins to suggest that sanctuaries who are solely dependent on "soft money" should be required to submit operating budgets for the next five to ten years before receiving additional elephants. Of the two sanctuaries that are the focus of his inane diatribe, PAWS has been in existence for twenty years and has grown and prospered without the financial support of city and county budgets and the Elephant Sanctuary has prospered similarly for nine years .

A series of questions by Dr. Hutchins address the ability of sanctuaries to maintain a sufficient staff of keepers and veterinarians who are knowledgeable about elephant management with experience in treating specific maladies that affect elephants, such as TB, deal with emergencies & natural disasters, etc. and the ability of staff to train elephants to perform essential behaviors necessary for proper management.

His rationale for these questions is certainly valid and should be a priority for any facility holding captive wildlife. He then refers to "numerous cases where USDA licensed facilities, including so-called sanctuaries, have degraded over time, on some occasions necessitating removal of animals and/or closure of the facility. Many animals have suffered as a result." I totally concur, but my experience , which is considerable since we are usually asked to shelter some of the animals who are victims of these unsavory pseudo-sanctuaries, has determined that those facilities often, like the Hawthorn Corporation, have been stocked with surplus animals from AZA accredited zoos.

Perhaps AZA and the SSP should apply the same rigid standards to the recipients of their surplus stock as they require of sanctuaries.

SIMILARITIES

Animal Management and Care

I find it interesting that Dr. Hutchins admits that there is little difference in the day-to-day practical challenges facing animal caretakers at sanctuaries and accredited zoos, yet AZA continues to drive a wedge between the two entities by rash and arbitrary decisions about aging elephants which are usually not supported by the animal caretakers at the zoo and, in some cases, the director and administrators.

Dr. Hutchins admits he has never visited the two sanctuaries which he has pronounced unacceptable although the zoo directors involved have sent staff to visit and have carefully investigated our sanctuary. It is arrogant and disrespectful to those individuals who are committed to the welfare of their elephants that their opinions and decisions are ignored. Sanctuaries could be helpful to zoos by preventing the adverse publicity which occurs whenever an accredited zoo sends surplus animals to hunting ranches, auctions and the Hawthorn Corporation.

For many years PAWS has attempted to establish good working relations with AZA. While we have respected the progressive zoo directors and dedicated keeping and veterinary staff at many zoos, the animosity generated by AZA undermines these efforts and certainly does not reflect the attitudes of many AZA accredited facilities' staff or directors that I have met. One wonders ifthe actions of AZA in this contumacious campaign against sanctuaries is fostered by those in AZA who do not conform to their standards and who do not share Dr. Hutchins' highly proclaimed advocacy for animal welfare and conservation.

When animal welfare problems surface and the brutal training of elephants like Tammy, Annie, Lota, Tarra, M'dunda and Sissy is exposed, it is usually the zoo staff who provide the information for investigations, and they pay dearly for their concern and perceived betrayal.

Keeper and Public Safety: Dr. Hutchins again suggests that zoos and sanctuaries should have the same responsibilities to train keeping staffand ensure public safety, yet he continues to conjecture with no factual basis on sanctuaries' ability to assume these responsibilities. His statement: "it would be interesting to know the keeper to elephant ratio in AZA zoos versus sanctuaries" is particularly offensive and fatuous since we have provided all this information to zoos who have sent or expect to send elephants to our facility. Dr. Hutchins is quite lax in his research and his approach.

The additional concerns expressed regarding public safety seem particularly inappropriate since our records indicate that all injuries, deaths, escapes and other safety problems have occurred at AZA accredited zoos and circuses like the Hawthorn Corporation whose elephant, Tyke, rampaged through the streets of Honolulu before she was shot and killed by city police. To date, sanctuaries have not encountered these problems although PAWS is diligent in training staff and volunteers in safety and emergency procedures.

Unlike most zoos, PAWS maintains twenty-four hour trained keeping staffat both sanctuaries. Supervisors live on the property and there is one supervisor for each eight hour shift which eliminates the possibility of leaving a mobile animal at night and discovering a downed animal when keepers return in the morning. This has been our practice for many years and should be that of AZA accredited facilities as well, particularly those housing aging, arthritic elephants.

Unlike most zoos, our seven trained elephant keepers do not care for other species. Their time is devoted exclusively to the elephants at our sanctuary. We do not utilize volunteers or interns for animal care.

Conservation and Education

Dr. Hutchins seems to have missed the point entirely, at least regarding PAWS. Much of our time, resources and educational activities promote conservation and protection of habitat for wild species. We do not attempt to persuade the public and the media that we are performing some panegyric service to the species that we are forced to confine; we demonstrate the need for conservation of wildlife and habitat.

While zoos collect elephants, rhino and other endangered species from the wild transporting them to small spaces with artificial habitats to be "ambassadors" for their fortunate relatives who avoided capture, PAWS promotes public education to protect the very animals that zoos capture in the name of conservation. The hypocrisy of breeding animals in captivity who will be doomed to live in unnatural enclosures in the name of conservation and science is a practice which should be eliminated by AZA and replaced with truthful information about captivity and the compelling need to protect wild species and their habitat.

Fundraising and Marketing

Obviously facilities that house captive wildlife must be well funded, but not at the expense of the resident animals. The enormous expenditures by zoos for public amenities often drains valuable resources which could be utilized to upgrade animal enclosures, especially in older zoos where improvement ofantiquated buildings and areas for animals should be a priority. It is this policy that engenders the comment from animal welfare advocates that zoos "exploit" animals. Often the sentiment is shared by keepers who expect to see facilities for the animals in their care improve and are profoundly discouraged on discovering that funds for cafeterias and education buildings are expended leaving little for improvements for the animals. I could cite many excellent examples of this, but the point is so obvious it needs no explanation.

Sanctuaries do not build enclosures for public viewing and little of their funds are spent for public amusement. One good supporter of PAWS who is a former zoo director remarked: "I love visiting a place where the elephants have an indoor jacuzzi and staff and visitors use a porta-potty."

CONCLUSION

While Dr. Hutchins expects sanctuaries to open themselves up for detailed peer evaluation through periodic accreditation", like all pedants, he avoids the issue of why some zoo professionals, government officials and members of the public have supported the transfer of selected elephants to sanctuaries. If AZA is to prevent such actions in the future, they must stop attacking their own members who have higher ethical standards than AZA.

To punish two zoo directors and their dedicated staffs for attempting to provide a better quality of life for their elephants is petty and unprofessional. To attack sanctuaries who have no quarrel with zoos and are trying to work in a cooperative spirit to achieve common goals will further alienate the public and some AZA members generating more adverse publicity. To support the actions of individual members who refuse to relinquish dominance and control elephants with training that is clearly inhumane while chastising others who maintain high ethical and philosophical standards provides critics with more reason to oppose zoos.

Dr. Hutchins suggests that "If the sanctuaries in question want to prove the quality and stability of their animal care programs, then I would encourage them to apply for AZA accreditation."

While PAWS has great respect for the dedicated keepers and zoo directors in many AZA facilities, we have no respect for the philosophy of the Elephant Manager's Association and the brutish proponents of dominance training who feel that electricity is an acceptable training tool and who bully members who practice protected contact. We have no desire to engage in the raging controversy within the AZA's elephant keeper community that is derived from AZA'S refusal to enforce their own standards which are considerably lower than ours.

AZA should be the leader in improving conditions for captive wildlife. This will be possible only ifDr. Hutchins and AZA focus attention on cruel training, substandard facilities and ethical improprieties within their own organization. To circle the wagons and defend the guilty while punishing the innocent is not the solution in improving conditions for captive wildlife. This will be possible only if Dr. Hutchins and AZA focus attention on cruel training, substandard facilities and ethical improprieties within their own organization. To circle the wagons and defend the guilty while punishing the innocent is not the solution." Pat Derby states in her recent rebuttal to Dr. Hutchins report.

For over 20 years PAWS has been conducting investigations on AZA accredited zoos in the United States. Incredibly, good zoos and good zoo directors are castigated for their ethical and philosophical concerns regarding elephants and other animals in their care, while AZA "favored" zoos have maintained substandard elephant facilities that are recognized by the AZA for their expertise and even applauded for their actions.

This latest decision by the AZA to threaten revocation of accreditation of two zoos Detroit and San Francisco who simply wish to retire older elephants, who are unsuitable for breeding, for ethical and philosophical reasons of their own, is wrong.

Pat Derby goes on to point out, "To punish these two zoo directors and their dedicated staffs for attempting to provide a better quality of life for their elephants is petty and unprofessional. And further, to attack private sanctuaries who have no quarrel with zoos and are trying to work in a cooperative spirit to achieve common goals will further alienate the public and some AZA members -- generating more adverse publicity. To support the actions of individual members who use dominance to control elephants with training that is clearly inhumane while chastising others who maintain high ethical and philosophical standards provides critics with more reason to oppose zoos."

While Dr. Hutchins' expects sanctuaries to open themselves up for detailed peer evaluation through periodic accreditation," like all pedants, he avoids the issue of why some responsible zoo professionals, government officials and concerned members of the public have supported the transfer of selected elephants to sanctuaries.

"If the AZA is to prevent such actions in the future, they must stop attacking their own members who have higher ethical standards than the AZA."Derby declared.

Which leads one to question: Is the AZA, supposedly charged with the responsibility to protect zoo animals, a friend or foe to animals?

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