The Elephant in the Room

By on December 5, 2008 with 0 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Elephants are among the most majestic of the animals we seek to protect here at The HSUS. These “gentle giants” have been the subject of much news recently, and I wanted to share a few of those items with you today.

Ned at The Elephant Sanctuary
© The Elephant Sanctuary
Ned begins his recovery.

On Nov. 8, the USDA confiscated Ned, an elephant who was 1,000 pounds underweight, from a Florida circus trainer. The skin-and-bones images reflect perhaps as many as 20 years of deprivation, but Ned held on for a better day and now it has come. He was taken to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, where he will remain until he is strong enough to travel to a permanent home at the Performing Animal Welfare Society Sanctuary in California. In just four weeks, he’s on his way toward becoming an elephant again.

The Los Angeles City Council this week took up the issue of elephants in the city’s zoo. Melya Kaplan’s Voice for the Animals Foundation, In Defense of Animals, and other advocates have been urging the zoo to move its lone elephant, Billy, to sanctuary, while the zoo has been planning an expanded elephant habitat. But even after spending $42 million, the zoo would keep elephants on six acres, a far cry from their life in the wild or at these sanctuaries. At Wednesday’s impassioned hearing, the council sent the issue back to committee to review new information about funding. But more outside money doesn’t solve the basic problem. Meeting the complex physical and psychological needs of elephants is extremely difficult in captive settings, even the best-designed sanctuaries. The degree of difficulty for zoos is even greater though, principally because they have so many species and so many competing priorities. As I wrote to the council, Los Angeles can demonstrate its leadership on animal welfare by closing its elephant exhibit and sending Billy to sanctuary.

Yesterday, blog reader Teri Travis brought a related issue to my attention—the use of elephants and lions in Britney Spears’ new video for her single “Circus.” If it’s extremely difficult to meet the needs of elephants and other wild animals in zoos, it’s impossible in entertainment, with the methods used to train animals and the cramped quarters they have when traveling and on location. We understand Britney Spears is embarking on a circus-themed tour in March that may include animals. We have seen time and time again dangerous wild animals attack human performers and audience members—even trained professionals like Roy Horn. We urge Britney Spears not to use wild animals for her own safety, the safety of her crew and audience, as well as for the sake of the animals.

Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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