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

Zoo to Send 2 Elephants to Sanctuaries
Director defies recommendation to ship pachyderms to other zoos

By Patricia Yollin, San Francisco Chronicle
October 2004

In the latest twist in the world of pachyderm politics, the San Francisco Zoo has decided to send its two remaining elephants to a sanctuary, ignoring the recommendation of the national organization that accredits it. African elephant Lulu and Asian elephant Tinkerbelle, both 38, turned into political animals, so to speak, after the deaths of companions Maybelle and Calle earlier this year.

The elephants -- destined for relocation since early May -- might not even end up in the same place. They could go to the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary in the Calaveras County town of San Andreas or the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn. "It could take anywhere from three to four months," zoo Director Manuel Mollinedo said Wednesday, a few hours before announcing his decision at the monthly meeting of the Joint Zoo Committee, which oversees zoo operations. Last week, the zoo received a letter from the powerful American Zoo and Aquarium Association, which is located in Silver Spring, Md., and represents 214 institutions in the United States, Canada, Bermuda and Hong Kong.

In the letter, the AZA said four of its member zoos -- which the association did not name -- ere interested in acquiring Lulu and Tinkerbelle.

However, Mollinedo said, "Sanctuaries have additional space. But it's not just the space, it's how you manage the animals. If you just dump a bunch of food in front of them, they're not going to be utilizing the space. There are zoos that, if they had expressed an interest, I would have been more inclined to send them there." He praised the elephant programs at the San Diego Wildlife Park and zoos in Seattle and Portland, Ore. Those places, however, were not named by the AZA as interested parties. After learning through the rumor mill which sites were interested, Mollinedo chose the sanctuary route instead -- which means the San Francisco Zoo will still be responsible for the two elephants.

In the politics of zoo society -- easily as complicated as San Francisco's -- the zoo association is rarely challenged. "I have a lot of respect for the AZA. This could jeopardize our accreditation," said Mollinedo, who has never gone against the organization before. "I'm hoping it doesn't. This is extremely serious." Sydney Butler, executive director of the AZA, agreed. He said the San Francisco Zoo would have to go through a lengthy conflict resolution process with the association that could, if not resolved, "result in the loss of accreditation for the San Francisco Zoo and potentially an ethics charge."

Association membership opens doors to a lot of things, said zoo spokeswoman Nancy Chan. For example, it allows zoos to exchange animals easily, do field conservation projects, obtain federal funds, and conduct captive breeding programs. Without it, the San Francisco Zoo would be a lone wolf, "estranged from its professional community," Butler said. By opting for sanctuaries, Mollinedo is also, in effect, beating to the punch the Board of Supervisors, which is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a nonbinding resolution to move the two pachyderms to a refuge immediately. Earlier in the day, before learning of the zoo's decision, Butler had written to Matt Gonzalez, president of the Board of Supervisors, asking that the vote be delayed until Aug. 3. "At the end of that time, everyone will be more informed," Butler wrote.

However, Mollinedo said, "For us, there's a sense of urgency." He added that the welfare of both the elephants and the beleaguered keepers was at stake. Mollinedo, who resurrected the decrepit and decaying Los Angeles Zoo during a seven-year tenure, took over in San Francisco on Feb. 1 and soon found himself dealing with elephant issues. Calle, suffering from degenerative joint disease, was euthanized on March 7 at age 37. Maybelle, 43, expired suddenly of heart failure on April 22. In captivity, elephants -- highly social herd animals -- can survive into their early 50s. Outraged animal rights activists and concerned city officials got involved.

There were protests, pickets, leafleting, arrests, city committees to navigate, the mechanics of the AZA's Elephant Species Survival Plan to explain. "This whole situation got so politicized. Everyone started digging in their heels," Mollinedo said. "The problem I'm faced with is I have a lone African elephant in one exhibit and a lone Asian in the other. ... And never in my wildest dreams did I think I'd be in charge of a zoo with two elephant deaths so soon." He's planning to send a veterinarian and keeper to the sanctuaries in California and Tennessee to take a look at husbandry techniques, veterinary care and funding.

The Joint Zoo Committee must approve the move.

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All Creatures Animal Rights Article: justice, peace, love, compassion, ethics, organizations, Bible, God, Lord, Jesus, Christ, Holy Spirit, grass roots, animals, cruelty
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