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

Zoo Told it Can't Send Elephants to Sanctuary

By Hugh McDiarmid, Jr.
October 2004

The Detroit Zoo's plan to send aging, arthritic elephants Winky and Wanda to a sanctuary was blocked Thursday.

If the pachyderms go anywhere, it must be to the Columbus Zoo in Ohio, decided a committee of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, the group that provides care standards and accreditation to zoos nationwide.

"The Columbus Zoo has five elephants -- including a male calf -- and 4 acres, including a 1-acre, indoor heated, temperature-controlled facility," said AZA Director Sydney Butler. "The committee found this is the right place to send these two elephants."

Detroit Zoo Director Ron Kagan declared in May that Detroit would be the nation's first major zoo to voluntarily give up its elephants solely on ethical grounds. Even though Detroit's 1-acre enclosure vastly exceeds AZA standards, Kagan said zoos -- especially in northern climates -- are generally not capable of providing for the social, physical and emotional needs of the animals.

He expected to send Winky and Wanda to one of two U.S. sanctuaries. There, they would be able to roam hundreds of acres and get more exercise like they would in the wild, where elephants can walk 30 miles a day.

Kagan said Thursday he needed to digest the AZA recommendation but suggested the zoo might appeal.

"I don't think a lot has changed as far as our intent," he said. "There is an appeal process, and we'll obviously do that if we feel it's appropriate."

Violating the AZA recommendation by sending the elephants to a sanctuary could mean disciplinary action against the Detroit Zoo and possible revocation of the association's accreditation. There could be further repercussions for sending Wanda elsewhere, because that elephant is on loan to Detroit from the San Antonio Zoo, which supports the AZA recommendation.

"Loss of accreditation is way down the line, and I trust this can be worked out," said Butler.

Kagan's intent to send the elephants to a sanctuary drew widespread public praise but alarmed many in the nation's zoo community who believe that zoos are fully capable of providing good lives for elephants.

The AZA's Species Survival Plan Committee is charged with overseeing the management of the U.S. captive elephant population in AZA-accredited facilities.

Had the committee declared the Detroit elephants as surplus, rather than making a specific recommendation, Detroit would have been free to send them to a sanctuary, barring an objection from the San Antonio Zoo.

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