Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Let the Elephants Roam

The following is a guest blog by Marc Bekoff, professor ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, devoted in the truest sense to understanding animals and treating them with the respect and dignity they deserve as unique beings.

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


Marc Bekoff and Jane Goodall (EETA):


VBelt said...

In any controversy, it is necessary to get at the heart of the matter by focusing on the facts, most of which are unfortunately ignored by those associated with the AZA because they have their own agenda. Until the needs of the real stakeholders (the elephants themselves) are taken into consideration, the public will be deceived into thinking that the only important part of the controversy of keeping captive elephants in confined settings are the assumed educational benefits these largest of land mammals supposedly offer to zoo visitors. The fact is that these captive elephants are suffering for those visitors, and I have to assume that most people, once they have educated themselves about the cruelty involved in keeping elephants in small enclosures, would agree that they do not want these gentle giants to suffer for them. It is time to provide captive elephants with the space they need, and if zoos are not able to do so, they should be sent to sanctuary where they will have hundreds of acres to roam.

faculty for workplace justice said...

humans put themselves, and others, through tremendous hardship for the sake of "convenience" (their own, but more often others'). what i'm saying is the no one has it easy around here, and perhaps (i genuinely do not know) elephants in well designed, humane zoos don't have it to bad. we are not designed to live in horrible cement cities, are we, or to take our walking exercise in schizophrenic malls? i guess i'm just advocating against purism. makes sense?

Retrieverman said...

Elephants were once a weapon of mass destruction. Ancient armies once drove them down street in parades in the same way that modern powers show off their missiles.

Today, both species of African elephant (forest and savanna) and the Asian elephant are the last survivors what were once part of a teaming mass of megafauna. Their valuable tusks took a toll on them, as did the conversion of their vast habitat into arable land. They hold on in pockets of protected land. A few have been broken into servants for various purposes.

However, this is hardly where elephants belong. We can hardly provide them the lives they deserve. We cannot give them the vast expanses they need to thrive.

We merely hold onto them as testaments to our conquest of nature, just as the Romans did when they imported elephants for their menageries and bloodsports. We rationalize this stroking of our egos with claims that keeping elephants in captivity will save them in the wild.

But such rationalization is poor relief to these rapidly disappearing species. The truth is only providing enough habitat for these animals and providing enough economic security for the people in elephant country to prevent poaching for ivory will ever save the elephant.

Zoos and circuses that keep elephants should be anachronisms.