Adam Tanner, Reuters
Elephants must receive hundreds of times more space to live at San Francisco's zoo or not be kept at the facility, city legislators said on Tuesday in legislation that could effectively bar pachyderms for good.
Animal rights advocates had sought a permanent ban -- which would have been a first for an urban zoo -- but the city's Board of Supervisors came up with a compromise to require the zoo to provide elephants 15 acres.
At present the zoo, considered one of the best in the nation and located off the Pacific Ocean, devotes about 1/64 of an acre to elephants, said Amanda Kahn, an aide to Supervisor Bevan Dufty who brokered the compromise rules.
"I'm a little disappointed but then on the other hand you have to remember that this was a compromise," Manuel Mollinedo, president of the San Francisco Zoo, said in an interview. "It is not what was originally proposed -- elephants are not being banned from the zoo like the original intent was."
He said the zoo planned to have elephants again in the future, but animal rights advocates hoped the 15-acre(6-hectare) requirement would prove too onerous.
"I hope it is going to be too much space and too expensive for them to turn 15 acres into an elephant exhibit," said Elliot Katz, president of In Defense of Animals, which had fought for an outright ban. "I hope it does turn out to be an elephant ban."
"It is the first time that the board of supervisors of a city tells the zoo against their wishes," he said. "People concerned about the welfare of animals are going to be so pleased."
The zoo had opposed the city ordinance revision as an interference in their efforts to improve conditions for elephants which they said they were doing anyway.
Zoo director Mollinedo said the zoo would need to raise $17 to $20 million for the new elephant area, and gave no target opening date.
The debate in liberal San Francisco is part of a wider campaign among animal activists against keeping wild animals in captivity, particularly elephants which are the largest and also considered among the more intelligent animals.
Zoo officials say the elephant ban idea comes from a vocal minority of animal activists who want to close all zoos.
The American Zoo and Aquarium Association counts 295 elephants in 78 different North American zoos accredited by the industry group, and says they are well treated.
Only one elephant, Lulu, now lives at San Francisco's zoo and it is expected to be moved to a sanctuary by the end of the month ahead of the repairs. The zoo's other elephant, Tinkerbelle, was moved to the sanctuary late last month.