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

Threats of Revoked Accreditation Could Mean Death for Ailing Elephants

By Lisa Wathne, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
July 2004

Norfolk, Va. — Today, PETA fired off a letter to Sydney Butler, executive director of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), urging him to rescind the AZA’s condemnation of the San Francisco Zoo’s enlightened and humane decision to send its two remaining elephants—one of whom is suffering from the same physical problems that caused the death of another elephant there—to a 2,300-acre elephant sanctuary in Southern California. The AZA has threatened the San Francisco Zoo—and others that follow its compassionate lead—with loss of accreditation and ethics charges.

PETA points out that experts worldwide are increasingly calling for an end to elephant exhibits in light of evidence that these intelligent, highly social animals suffer both physically and psychologically in captivity. To date, eight U.S. zoos have closed their elephant exhibits, including the Detroit Zoo, which became the first zoo to do so strictly on ethical grounds. Lack of exercise in woefully undersized enclosures and long hours spent on hard surfaces are major contributors to foot infections—virtually unknown in free-roaming herds—and arthritis, the leading causes of death among captive elephants. Elephants are routinely shuffled from one zoo to another with no regard for the strong bonds that they develop for each other, which are critical to their long-term health and happiness.

PETA also questions why the AZA would intervene to stop some zoos from improving the lives of elephants while it condones the dangerous and abusive practices at others, such as using metal-tipped bullhooks to discipline and control elephants; housing elephants in cramped, barren indoor enclosures for months on end during winter in cold climates; and importing young elephants captured in the wilds of Africa to "spruce up" zoos’ exhibits. Furthermore, the AZA refuses to enforce its recommendation that zoos discontinue elephant rides, which put children and others at risk for injury.

"The AZA’s objection to giving elephants the life they deserve at a sanctuary is shameful," says PETA Director Debbie Leahy. "Making threats to zoos that try to do the right thing is a dead giveaway that this zoo trade group doesn’t care about what’s best for elephants."  

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