IDA Writing Alert: Breeding elephants doesn’t protect them

November 1st, 2007 8:35 pm by Kelly Garbato

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From: In Defense of Animals – takeaction [at] idausa.org
Date: Nov 1, 2007 11:20 AM
Subject: Writing Alert: Breeding elephants doesn’t protect them

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette printed an opinion piece about the Pittsburgh Zoo’s new elephant breeding facility. Please write a letter to the editor thanking them for publishing the piece and addressing the zoo conservation myth. Send letters to letters [at] post-gazette.com.

Read “Breeding elephants doesn’t protect them” online.

Breeding elephants doesn’t protect them

Zoos like those in Pittsburgh should help preserve the animals’ native habitat instead

Wednesday, October 31, 2007
By Marianne Bessey

During this month’s ground-breaking ceremony at the Pittsburgh zoo’s proposed elephant breeding facility in Somerset Country, lots of lip service was paid to “conservation.” It is without question that elephants, endangered in Asia and threatened in Africa, desperately need help. But will spending millions of dollars on breeding a handful of elephants actually help elephants — or just the zoo’s bottom line?

The elephant exhibit at the Philadelphia Zoo is closing and the three remaining wild-caught African elephants — Kallie, Bette and Petal — are supposed to move to Somerset County in April. The zoo’s Asian elephant, Dulary, was fortunate enough to leave Philadelphia in May for The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, where she enjoys the closest thing to an elephant’s life possible in captivity.

Kallie, Bette and Petal could have a similar life at the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary in California, but instead the Philadelphia Zoo has decided to ship them to the “International Conservation Center” breeding facility in Somerset County.

The breeding facility is located on 724 acres of rolling hills, with six natural ponds and lush vegetation. I visited the facility in July. It is a tranquil and beautiful place, positively idyllic.

But there’s a problem: The elephants, who would roam up to 30 miles a day in their native African home, won’t have access to any of it except when they are supervised by a keeper with a weapon known as an ankus, or bullhook. That’s right, the Pittsburgh zoo still employs an archaic “management method” that dominates elephants through fear and violence with a device that resembles a fireplace poker — all in the name of conservation, of course.

Other businesses, such as Ringling Bros. Circus, use the same fear- and violence-based management technique and also claim their breeding efforts are in support of “conservation.” In reality, the only thing being “conserved” is the zoo’s and Ringling Bros.’ business interests: Elephants are hugely popular and a big customer draw.

The display of elephants and other animals, claim the zoos, makes people care about them, which will help save the species. However, there is not a shred of evidence to support the claim that people need to see endangered animals firsthand to want to save them. If so, elephants wouldn’t be endangered today since people have been seeing them in zoos and circuses for more than 200 years.

On the contrary, during the last 20 years, as zoos have adopted their “conservation” ethic, elephant numbers have continued to decline due to the accelerated destruction of their natural habitats in their native countries. Without a habitat, the species can’t survive — even zoos know this. Still, zoos persist in diverting hundreds of millions of dollars every year away from true conservation. True conservation is habitat preservation and anti-poaching/animal protection efforts in native countries.

Since the annual cost of keeping each elephant for a year ranges from an estimated $58,000 to $150,000, here are just a few examples of what just one zoo’s elephant budget could support to truly help protect these animals:

* Less than $1 million per year can protect 1 million acres of wildlife in Cambodia — less than a dollar per acre per year.

* $10,000 can support a seven-member anti-poaching team in Asia for one year, including salaries, food supplements, medicine support and basic equipment, according to WildAid.

* $400,000 is the entire annual budget for the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, which protects the lives of 1,400 elephants in 52 families in their native habitat in Kenya.

If we really want to save endangered or threatened species such as elephants, zoos must stop wasting energy and money on keeping elephants in captivity and redirect those resources to preserve habitats in Asia and Africa.

Poverty-ridden countries where wild elephants live are desperate for help in preserving wildlife, yet the multi-billion-dollar zoo industry does little to nothing to support these efforts. Instead, North American zoos — including the Pittsburgh Zoo — spend tens of millions of dollars to display a few hundred elephants while ignoring the tens of thousands of elephants in immediate jeopardy in their native countries.

So let’s call this proposed breeding facility what it really is: the elephant equivalent of a puppy mill, whose sole purpose is to fill the coffers of the zoo industry. Please don’t call it “conservation.”

You can use the following points to help you in your letter or visit http://www.HelpElephants.com for more information.

* Zoo breeding and other programs are aimed not at saving elephant species in range countries, but rather in propagating elephants for zoos.
* The cost of keeping elephants in zoos is 50 times more expensive than protecting equivalent numbers in the wild.
* Zoos spend more on marketing and advertising than on true conservation.
* Real conservation takes place where elephants live, and includes effective elephant conservation programs, such as habitat protection and anti-poaching efforts.
* While zoos often argue that they support elephant conservation projects directly, most spend paltry amounts of funding on in situ conservation. Many spend more on marketing than they do on conservation.

Letters should be less than 250 words. Please do not send attachments and 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. Let us know if your letter is published.
Communications Director

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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] idausa.org

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