IDA Writing Alert: Elephant euthanized at Wild Animal Park

June 20th, 2007 8:03 pm by Kelly Garbato

While reading through the article, this sentence jumped right out at me: “In the early 1990s, the zoo stopped chaining the animals and allowed them to roam freely at night.”

Early ’90s, you say? How progressive. Not. Seriously, you want kudos for unchaining your elephants in the 1990s? That’s like the World Health Organization bragging that they no longer consider homosexuality a mental disorder…as of 1992. (Even the APA was late to the party…in 1973.) Bully for you!

———- Forwarded message ———-
From: In Defense of Animals – takeaction [at]
Date: Jun 20, 2007 5:46 PM
Subject: Writing Alert: Elephant euthanized at Wild Animal Park

The North County Times published a story about the death of an elephant at the San Diego Wild Animal Park who was suffering from severe foot disease. Please write a letter to the editor of the North County Times on the suffering elephants endure in zoos. Send letters to the Times at letters [at]

Read “Elephant euthanized at Wild Animal Park” online.

Elephant euthanized at Wild Animal Park

North County Times – Escondido,Calif.
By: PAUL EAKINS – Staff Writer

SAN PASQUAL VALLEY — A North County celebrity who appeared on “The Tonight Show” with the late Johnny Carson and whose feats of strength and agility kept crowds in awe has died.

But critics say the death could have been prevented.

Carol, a 39-year-old Asian elephant, was euthanized because of health problems Tuesday at the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park east of Escondido, zoo officials said.

Officials said euthanasia was the “humane” thing to do, but wildlife advocates said Tuesday the animal should have been sent to an elephant sanctuary instead. At a sanctuary, advocates said, the elephant might have recovered from the illnesses they say were caused by poor treatment at the animal park.

Animal park officials denied the animal had been poorly treated, saying they had taken many steps to address the health concerns.

The elephant had been under specialized care for a degenerative joint disease and inflammations on its front feet at the 1,800-acre park, zoo officials said.

Foot inflammations had been treated successfully before, but the pachyderm’s condition had deteriorated recently, the elephant was in pain and was less willing to move around, Jeff Andrews, the park’s animal care manager, said Tuesday.

“Those issues on her feet had regressed and had increased in number,” Andrews said. “This time it simply wasn’t recovering as fast as we had expected, and, actually, it was having a hard time recovering at all.”

Moreover, Andrews said, an infected bone in the elephant’s left front foot needed to be removed or the infection would have spread. He said zoo veterinarians and officials decided that recovering from the surgery would have been difficult and painful for the elephant because of its other medical conditions.

“We realized that we were really facing a decision that would require surgery and long-term rehabilitation that we felt was not in Carol’s best interest,” Andrews said. “We all agreed that the most humane thing to do for Carol … was to ease her pain.”

However, Florence Lambert of the La Jolla-based Elephant Alliance, a national elephant advocacy nonprofit group, said Tuesday the zoo had other options.

“They should have considered sending her to a sanctuary a long time ago,” Lambert said. “It would have made a big difference, because sanctuaries truly care about animals and would do anything day and night to help them.”

Andrews said the park works hard to ensure its elephants are healthy and happy.

“The Wild Animal Park was the best place for Carol or any of these elephants to receive the best possible care for them, physically or behaviorally,” he said.

There are a handful of animal sanctuaries in the United States, including one in California, that care for sick, old or injured elephants that have been kept in captivity. There are an estimated 25,600 to 32,750 Asian elephants in the wild and about 15,000 in captivity around the world, according to the multinational conservation organization World Wildlife Fund.

Asian elephants can live to be 60 years old in the wild and can live to be 80 years old in captivity.

The elephant euthanized Tuesday arrived at the San Diego Zoo from Thailand in 1968 and was transferred to the Wild Animal Park 10 years later. There the animal lived with five other Asian elephants, including one bull. It never produced offspring.

The elephant once appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” with wildlife preservationist Joan Embery. Until about two weeks ago, the animal was still performing regularly for park visitors in a special stage area next to the elephant habitat, officials said.

Lambert said that throughout most of those years, the Wild Animal Park elephants spent their nights chained in stalls with hard concrete floors, which likely caused the foot and joint problems.

“Their care is what caused her early health problems,” Lambert said. “There’s no excuse for her illness.”

In Defense of Animals, an international animal protection organization based in San Rafael, also released a statement Tuesday blaming the elephant’s death on poor conditions at the animal park.

Andrews said the chains may have had a health impact but that “it’s really impossible to say.”

In the early 1990s, the zoo stopped chaining the animals and allowed them to roam freely at night, he said. The zoo also hired an additional zookeeper just for the ailing elephant in 2005 and in recent years installed a rubber floor and a heating system in the elephants’ indoor stalls, Andrews said.

Andrews said zoo officials didn’t contact any elephant sanctuaries because the animal park offers the best care possible for elephants and it is unlikely a sanctuary could have properly cared for the pachyderm.

“We didn’t think it would be in Carol’s best interest,” Andrews said.

Two animal sanctuaries contacted Tuesday said they would have considered taking Carol if the zoo had asked.

“It’s a very sad situation,” said Katherine Liscomb, of San Marcos, who is vice president for administration and animal care centers for the Humane Society of the United States. “You do have to wonder if given the proper therapy and seen by additional elephant experts, if it would have been given a chance.”

The society runs an animal sanctuary near Dallas that has one female Asian elephant, it said.

In California, the Performing Animal Welfare Society runs a 2,300-acre sanctuary in San Andreas southeast of Sacramento that houses many exotic animals, including four African elephants and seven Asian elephants, according to co-founder Ed Stewart.

Stewart said most of the elephants there have some sort of injury caused by an overly sedentary life in captivity. But that doesn’t mean the Wild Animal Park elephant would have recovered at the sanctuary, he said.

“I’ve heard a lot of people say, ‘You just send them to a sanctuary and everything is OK,’ ” Stewart said. “But it really doesn’t happen like that. Once they have foot problems, they have foot problems forever.”

— Contact staff writer Paul Eakins at (760) 740-5420 or peakins [at]

You can use the following points to help you in your letter or visit for more information.

*Elephants are highly complex, social animals who live in extended family groups and travel over thirty miles a day. Today’s zoos are unable to meet the physical and social needs of elephants. These needs include space, adequate exercise, and extended social groups.

*Elephants in zoos suffer from captivity-induced physical and psychological health problems due to lack of space. Health problems include debilitating foot and joint problems, arthritis, digestive disorders, stereotypic behaviors (neurotic behaviors resulting from severe confinement). Other problems include reproductive system shutdown (flatliners), and high infant mortality rate.

*The AZA, a zoo industry trade organization, provides a set of standards that are insufficient for the proper maintenance of elephants. These standards include a minimum outdoor enclosure size of 1,800 square feet for one elephant, the equivalent of six parking lot spaces. The standards also allow the prolonged chaining of elephants.

*As the largest land mammal, elephants are genetically designed to move and forage most of the day; this constant movement is necessary for their psychological and physical well-being.

*Zoos routinely move elephants, and other animals, from one zoo to another with little to no consideration for their social bonds. In the wild female elephants never leave their mothers and male elephants have complex social structures with other bulls and females. No elephant in the wild lives in constant solitary confinement.

Letters should be less than 300 words. Please do not send attachments. Please remember to include your full name, address, and phone number (for verification purposes–street names and phone numbers will not be published) and not to use any wording in this alert or cross-post it to other lists. Thanks and good luck!

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In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization with more than 85,000 members and supporters dedicated to ending the abuse and exploitation of animals by protecting their rights and welfare. IDA’s efforts include educational events, cruelty investigations, boycotts, grassroots activism, and hands-on rescue through our sanctuaries in Mississippi and Cameroon, Africa.

In Defense of Animals 3010 Kerner Blvd., San Rafael, California 94901 – P: (415) 388-9641 F: (415) 388-0388

email: idainfo [at]



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