San Francisco Mulls Ban of Beloved Zoo Elephants
SAN FRANCISCO − San Francisco officials pondered Thursday whether to stop keeping elephants in the city's zoo as activists pushed for a ban amid concerns about their conditions in captivity.
Considered one of the best in the nation, San Francisco's zoo plans to send its two elephants, Tinkerbelle and Lulu, to a California sanctuary by next month before improving its facilities for pachyderms in the future.
That plan is not enough for Elliot Katz, president of In Defense of Animals, which is lobbying San Francisco's Board of Supervisors for what would be the first ban on zoo elephants in the country.
"It's cruel and inhumane for these elephants," Katz told Reuters before city legislators held a public hearing. "Unfortunately the public doesn't have the full picture, how these elephants have suffered."
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. Their numbers grew by one Wednesday after an elephant birth in Canada.
That count excludes elephants privately owned by people, such as singer Michael Jackson, and by circuses. A spokesman said the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service has licensed 494 elephants in the United States.
The debate in San Francisco is part of a wider campaign among animal activists against keeping wild animals in captivity, particularly elephants which are not only the largest but also considered among the more intelligent and social animals.
Zoo Update Planned
Officials for the San Francisco Zoo, which is located in the city's southwest corner across from the Pacific Ocean, acknowledge their current facilities are inadequate.
"The facility is outdated," Robert Jenkins, director of animal care at the zoo, said in an interview. "We're looking for a situation that gives them a larger amount of space."
The zoo seeks to raise $7 million to $25 million to implement the latest standards before reopening that section in five to seven years with perhaps six elephants, he said.
The new plan would give them more space and better conditions, but Katz, a veterinarian based in Mill Valley, California, said elephants in captivity suffer disease and death more often than in sanctuaries or in the wild.
The Board of Supervisors services committee, split over the issue on Thursday, delivered the legislation to the full city legislature for a Dec. 7 vote without a recommendation. Mayor Gavin Newsom has not taken a position on the issue.
Zoo officials say the elephant ban idea comes from a vocal minority of animal activists who want to close all zoos.
"It is highly questionable whether politicians who know absolutely nothing about animal management ought to be the ones who are making decisions about complex animals, about elephants or other animals in zoos," said Michael Hutchins, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association's director of conservation.
His group says cramped conditions for elephants such as New York City's Central Park Zoo once had are now a thing of the past and that new standards have prompted several zoos, including in Madison, Wisconsin, to give up their elephants.