June 20th marks the 1st International Day of Action for Elephants in Zoos

June 10th, 2009 8:23 pm by Kelly Garbato

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On June 20th (that’s a week from this Saturday, folks), In Defense of Animals will be holding the first-ever International Day of Action for Elephants in Zoos (IDAEZ for short).

IDA describes IDAEZ as

a global event aimed at bringing mammoth attention to the plight of elephants in zoos and ending their suffering. On Saturday, June 20th, pro-elephant advocates will turn out en masse at their local zoos, holding outreach events and demonstrations to educate the public about the tragic effects of keeping elephants in small, impoverished zoo pens where they are suffering and dying prematurely.

Elephants are highly intelligent, complex and self-aware individuals who have evolved for long distance living. In the wild they range tens of miles a day, live in large, tight-knit family groups, and communicate with one another at great distances. Yet zoos keep elephants in tiny exhibits of a few acres or less, where lack of movement and standing on hard surfaces cause painful foot infections and arthritis, the leading causes of euthanasia in captive-held elephants. The stress and boredom of intensive captivity results in abnormal behaviors such as repetitive swaying and head bobbing. […]

The elephants need your help! By participating in this event, you become part of a global community of pro-elephant advocates joined together on June 20th to end the suffering of elephants in zoos. We urge you to organize or join an event at your local zoo, write letters, educate your friends and family. It’s all about taking action. United, we are a powerful force for change!

Backed by an army of public relations personnel, the zoo industry has been largely successful in convincing the general public that zoos work for the public good: breeding endangered animal species which might otherwise go extinct; fostering in children a love and appreciation for nature and its inhabitants; throwing their weight behind sundry conservation efforts so that, one day, animals need not live in captivity for their species to survive. This is a lie.

Make no mistake: zoos are businesses. As such, their “exhibits” (read: sentient non-human animals) are determined more by popularity and ability to put asses in the seats than species survival and biological necessity. Once individual animals age and are no longer “cute,” or yesterday’s trendy species has gone the way of parachute pants, these animals may be sold to roadside zoos, “penned” or “canned” hunting facilities, collectors and the like. Lacking an interested buyer, “surplus” zoo animals might simply be “destroyed.” Additionally, maintaining wild animals in captivity is cost-prohibitive; t’would be more effective – and less expensive – to redirect a zoo’s annual operating costs towards habitat preservation, so that the members of these endangered species can live in the wild, where they’re more likely to thrive and reproduce of their own free will.

For additional information about the plight of animals confined to zoos, I highly recommend Joan Dunayer’s Animal Equality: Language and Liberation, which includes a chapter on the zoo industry (let’s just say that the language the industry employs to describe its practices is quite revealing of its collective attitudes and policies re: non-human animals), as well as this factsheet from Animal Rights Africa, which provides an excellent summary of the issue.

For information specific to elephants, see IDA’s The Truth About Zoos and Elephant Conservation; Elephant Life in U.S. – Zoos vs. Sanctuaries, also from IDA; and Puppy/Pachy Love, a post I wrote about Tara and Bella of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

In that last piece, I compared the Kansas City Zoo – which was voted one of America’s best zoos in 2008 – to The Elephant Sanctuary (one guess which of the two came out on top). I also included two videos of Ned, who came to TES in November 2008:

On Saturday, November 8, an emaciated Asian male elephant named Ned was confiscated from Florida based circus trainer Lance Ramos by the USDA for failure to comply with the Animal Welfare Act and was placed by USDA authority with The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. On Sunday, November 9th, at about 12:30 p.m., Ned arrived at The Elephant Sanctuary. Ned will reside only temporarily in his private facility at The Sanctuary until a permanent facility is ready for him.

Sadly, Ned succumbed to a lifetime of abuse, just six short months after finding freedom at TES:

Ned passed away May 15, 2009 at 3:47am CT in the company of a caregiver. He passed without a struggle, just two deep breaths and a sigh and then he was gone. We feel cheated by the little time we had with Ned but cherish every single moment we were allowed to care for and get to know this most amazing boy/man elephant known as Ned. We love you Ned, Namaste sweet boy.

In a press release, IDA blamed Ned’s death in part on the USDA:

Today’s tragic death of Ned, a 21-year old male elephant at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee may have been prevented had the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) not waited until the elephant was at death’s door to confiscate him from an abusive trainer, the animal protection organization In Defense of Animals (IDA) charged today.

Similar inaction by the USDA, charged with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), is jeopardizing the lives of other captive elephants, IDA said. Currently at risk is an emaciated elephant named Jewel, who continues to travel and perform in circuses despite her debilitated condition, her handler’s chronic violations of animal welfare law and her possible infection with the human form of tuberculosis.

“Ned had an absolutely tragic life and the USDA knew about his life-threatening situation almost a year before it acted to confiscate him,” said Elliot M. Katz, DVM, IDA president. “Despite The Elephant Sanctuary’s heroic efforts, it was too late for Ned. How many more elephants have to die before the USDA starts fulfilling its legal responsibility to enforce our nation’s animal welfare law?”

No being deserves to suffer like this; least of all for the amusement of another.

On that note, back to the International Day of Action for Elephants in Zoos.

IDA offers several ways to take action:

How you can get involved:

* Coordinate an event. Submit your event information here, and we’ll post it on our web site so others can join you on June 20 and help make your city’s IDAEZ event a huge success.

* Join an event. Check our events listing page to locate one near you (be sure to visit more than once as we’ll be adding more events up until June 20).

* Bring a friend or two to an IDAEZ event. Share information about the elephants’ plight with your family, friends and colleagues.

* Visit our web site for more ways you can help make the International Day of Action for Elephants in Zoos a success for the elephants.

* Hold an elephant awareness party. If you do not live near a zoo that holds elephants but are passionate about taking action on June 20, hold an elephant party to raise awareness and donations for IDA’s elephant campaign. Contact us for materials and suggested videos to share.

Cruelty can’t stand the spotlight. So please join IDA and compassionate people around the globe on Saturday, June 20, to help bring an end to the suffering of elephants in zoos.

For more information, visit http://www.helpelephants.com/ or contact IDAEZ Event Coordinator Melissa Gonzalez: Melissa [at] idausa.org or call 707-981-7701.

Likewise, please consider making a donation in Ned’s memory to The Elephant Sanctuary.

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