The article in today's Washington Post by Robert Strauss about elephants in zoos ("The Elephant in the Room") contains a lot of faulty reasoning and self-serving claims for keeping these wonderful and magnificent beings in cages that are far too small for them. For example, Mark A. Reed, the executive director of the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas and the head of the Elephant Task Force of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) made the following statements:
"They are a flagship animal. To some people, elephants mean Africa or Asia. I look at them as the representatives for species in the wild."
**Captive animals are hardly the representatives for their wild relatives. Anyone who's seen elephants in the wild (and I have) knows that zoos cannot possibly provide what these individuals need. Furthermore, zoos ship elephants and other animals around as if they're a piece of furniture ignoring the fact that elephants are extremely social, bright, and emotional beings who live in long-lasting families in the wild and who grieve the loss of friends and family. Elephants are viewed as money-making commodities rather than highly emotional beings who don't like being ripped apart from family and friends.
"What people forget is that sooner or later, every animal in every zoo is going to die, no matter how well we treat them," Reed said, noting that no one has accused any zoo of intentional abuse. "Just because elephants can walk 50 miles a day, it doesn't mean they do -- or even want to."
**Michael Hutchins, formerly of the AZA, has also offered the same sort of vacuous claim--Reed and Hutchins seem to think that this biological fact justifies keeping animals in horrible conditions. One could make the same claim for individuals of *all* species, including humans, and the slippery slope onto which this argument goes is a very dangerous one---a first-grader could likely pick away at it ... To hear people from the AZA make this claim to justify keeping animals in cages is especially disturbing.
Reed also said that just like humans, elephants would rather stay put, and they do if they can find water, shelter and food.
**Once again this is just vacuous. How does he know this? People often makes these claims that individuals are happy or content, but then criticize people who say that individuals would rather "not" do something or don't like something--it's OK for them to make these sorts of attributions but not for those in other camps....Let's not forget that concerning Ruby, another captive elephant who was shipped around as if she was a piece of furniture. Someone from the AZA said she's happy and doing well but then accused others of being anthropomorphic for saying she wasn't happy or that she wasn't doing well ....What self-serving double-speak ...
"Some of this is our own fault. We put up signs at the fence that say an elephant can walk 50 miles in a day and people then say they have to walk that far," said Reed. "We make sure our elephants get exercise, but three, four, five miles is plenty, we feel."
**What does he mean "we feel?" Once again he makes a guess that's self-serving because of how little zoos can really offer elephants and so many other animals
"My first animal contact was seeing Rosie the elephant at the Portland, Oregon, zoo when I was 3 1/2, in 1954. It had a huge impact, and I know it is why I am in this line of work," he said.
**Of course, that's why he feels good about his line of work - keeping elephants in cages that aren't and can't be large enough --
Marc Bekoff and Jane Goodall (EETA): www.ethologicalethics.org