Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
16 January 2000 Issue

Update on El Paso Elephant Beating
By [email protected], El Paso resident

Last November we ran the story of how El Paso Zoo employees, acting on orders from our zoo's director David Zucconi, beat Sissy the elephant for several hours with ax handles. Many citizens of El Paso were outraged when they learned of this event from the local papers and saw the videotape of the beating on the local tv news. Many probably still don't know that it is common practice in the zoo business to beat elephants to teach them "respect" for their keepers.

This event did allow the El Paso animal advocacy group, Voice for All Animals, to focus attention on a number of problems at the zoo. Seals and sea lions are kept in small chlorinated freshwater pools, instead of the somewhat more natural salt water enclosures, featured at other zoos. Sunny the sea lion is suffering from cataracts caused by unfiltered sunlight shining through clear water, and has developed seizures caused by the chlorine. Most of the enclosures are too small for the animals imprisoned by our city. Many of the animals can barely tolerate the over 100 degree temperatures of El Paso summers.

Thanks to the work of El Paso's Voice for All Animals, the beating of Sissy was brought to national attention. Emails poured in to city officials from Animal Rights Online readers as well as from other animal advocates around the country. Our city council quickly agreed to the demands of an irate public to retire Sissy to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Sissy will leave El Paso on January 24th for a much better life.

The Elephant Sanctuary is a haven for retired and abused circus and zoo elephants and their policy is to let the elephants live like elephants. Their 800 acre space includes old growth forests, streams and meadows and a heated barn for those brisk winter nights. I urge you to check out their webpage at The Elephant Sanctuary It will give you a good feeling to see what they have done and what they hope to do in the future for mistreated elephants. Perhaps you will even want to contribute a few dollars to this very worthwhile enterprise.

The city of El Paso didn't. The city leaders of El Paso followed the course of least resistance, like a turd gracefully floating down the Rio Grande.

In my mind, the city of El Paso is responsible for the upkeep of Sissy the elephant, they brought her here to our zoo, they hired the zoo staff who beat her. They got the money from the gate fees of people who came to see her. But in the minds of the city bureaucrats, the concerned citizens who fought for Sissy to be retired to the Elephant Sanctuary are the ones who have to pay for Sissy's retirement, and so far we have raised a few thousand dollars for Sissy and will continue to do so.

El Paso Mayor Carlos Ramirez backed the zoo director until last week when the United States Department of Agriculture, which enforces a few regulations about the treatment of zoo animals, ruled that the city of El Paso had violated several provisions of the federal Animal Welfare Act. This action pressured Mayor Ramirez to announce, last Thursday, the forced resignation of Zoo Director David Zucconi.

This was a victory for us, but it was only motivated by money. Negotiations between the city of El Paso and the USDA are underway so that the city can pay a small fine of a few thousand dollars and sweep this matter under the carpet. The city of El Paso hopes to pass a 30 million dollar bond issue to expand the zoo this spring. More money to buy more animals. This was the only motivation they had for sending Sissy to the Elephant Sanctuary. This was the only motivation they had for firing Zoo Director Zucconi who ordered the beating of Sissy.

It is a damn shame that our city leaders didn't think about the welfare or the suffering of the animals, and that their only thought was about tourist dollars, but hey, this is El Paso, what do you expect?

Go on to Greyhounds Dying in Research Labs
by Mike Winikoff, Director of Programs, The Ark Trust

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