Thursday, July 24, 2008

Jenny the Elephant

All of Dallas's animal folk are abuzz with the latest drama unfolding around the Dallas Zoo. Jenny the Elephant is being transferred to a safari park in Mexico. There are blogs everywhere promoting letters to be sent to the Mayor and City Hall as well as petitions and a big rally is scheduled for Sunday.

At first, I didn't even want to get involved because Concerned Citizens for Jenny looked to be getting involved with PETA. If there's any one organization that will make me second guess an animal rights movement, it's PETA. I find their extreme tactics to be far over reaching what is called for and they often are far too aggressive. But I was invited to the rally on Sunday by a neighbor and before I declined, I decided I ought to actually start reading what people were saying about the facility she was destined for in Mexico.

There seems to be three points in the "No, Not Mexico" argument.

1. Mexico is not governed by the US Dept of Agriculture and thus their animals are not protected by the Animal Welfare Act.

2. Where she will be housed is only 4.9 acres and will possibly be subdivided into a smaller area to keep her and her African Elephant companion separated from the Asian Elephants because there are concerns that the two kinds of Elephants do not get along and they can also have issues with diseases. The sanctuary in Tennessee which has offered a space for Jenny has much more in free-roaming acreage which is closer to a natural habitat.

3. Africam Safari is a zoo which is navigated by cars to get from one exhibit to another. Where this may not be such a big issue for some animals, Jenny is said to be sensitive to noises and has exhibited aggressive behavior in the past as well as self-destructive behavior leading to the Dallas Zoo medicating her to alter her behavior.

The Dallas Zoo is taking up for Africam Safari and are not only saying that the facility is experienced in handling problem elephants like Jenny, but they're saying that they chose the facility because it was accredited with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums and the sanctuaries they considered were not. They stand by the assertion that they will not ever send an animal to a facility which is not AZA accredited. They also state that The Elephant Sanctuary does not have a 24 hour veterinary staff as Africam does and that lack of 24 hour vet care is an issue for them. And finally, they say that The Elephant Sanctuary did not offer Jenny a place until After they had committed to sending her to Africam. And they've posted a letter of support from renowned former Zoo Director and TV personality Jack Hannah.

So what do I think? Well, honestly, without making a trip to both facilities myself to check them out, I can't say without a shadow of a doubt that Africam is a terrible choice. But I can say that the third point I listed above "against" Africam is pretty much THE reason I've finally decided to go ahead and attend the protest rally. I worry most about the noise being a factor in Jenny's unhappiness. And I wonder why on earth The Dallas Zoo has insisted on digging their heels in on this one without even acting like they are considering a better option.

I don't know for sure if Margaret Morin's assertions against the Dallas Zoo are on point or if she's letting emotions on the issue get the best of the whole picture, but if I am to believe the assertions she has made, it sounds to me like what is more important to the Dallas Zoo is politics, power, and dollar signs. What should be important to them is where Jenny will have the most space to roam. That also has contributed to my decision to attend the rally.

And lastly, as much as I Really Hate to say it, something that a spokesperson for PETA said caught my eye too. Jennifer O'Conner said to the Observer , "I wanted to point out The Elephant Sanctuary is not a zoo, and AZA accreditation does not apply. The Elephant Sanctuary is accredited by The Association of Sanctuaries (TAOS)." Honestly, that little tidbit of information right there equals if not trumps the AZA accreditation argument as a sanctuary is geared more towards making the animal's stay there as comfortable and happy as humanly and monetarily possible whereas a Zoo's primary focus is to draw people into the park for an exhibit. The GOOD Zoos then participate in endangered species work helping to stabilize shrinking numbers of at risk species, but those are special zoos and certainly not the norm.

But Jack Hanna says it's a Good Idea!

Yeah, well, Jack Hanna's also a TV personality, not a zoologist, or even a biologist. His behavior with animals on TV has always made me cringe. He is sometimes careless with animals in the name of entertainment. Just because he brought a dilapidated zoo back from the brink doesn't mean he's the end all be all of animal welfare. He's a Business student. Good business students figure out how to do stuff like that.

I don't think this is a case where there will be deliberate mistreatment of Jenny should she actually go to Africam Safari. I think this is a case where the Dallas Zoo failed to think out of the box and got angry and hard headed when someone called them on the issue. That's not fair to the Elephant. If you are a person who is inclined to feel Jenny should go to The Elephant Sanctuary instead of Africam Safari, the rally for her is on Sunday, July 27th from 1pm - 2pm on the lawn at the front entrance of the Dallas Zoo. And it doesn't end there. Diplomatic letters need to be sent to Mayor Tom Leppert.