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May 5, 2010 / V A Nichols

The welfare of elephants like Lucky and Queenie

Every day we receive messages about how captive elephants are being mistreated, often accompanied by disturbing photographs or video footage. It can be tough spending hours, weeks and months looking at the brutality and abuse inflicted on defenceless animals who cannot speak for themselves.

We are a small team so we are not able to take on individual battles for each and every elephant. But there are particular cases when we feel compelled to make our opinions known and Lucky, and now Queenie, in the San Antonio Zoo are two examples. Lucky has been languishing alone in the San Antonio Zoo and welfare advocates have been arguing that she should be sent to a sanctuary due to her poor accomodation and her lack of companionship. When Queenie was rescued from an abusive life in the circus everyone expected her to go to one of the two sanctuaries, which are ideally set up to provide a home for elephants who have been mistreated. Indeed negotiations with PAWS were well underway.

In what we consider a dirty trick, however, the San Antonio Zoo managed to get hold of Queenie using the argument that Lucky needed a companion. A spineless USDA supported that argument saying that the San Antonio Zoo is accredited. We believe that this maneuver is part of an ongoing attempt by the AZA to block the sanctuaries from receiving elephants – so they don’t lose face. We certainly don’t disagree that Lucky should have companionship, but feel strongly that both Queenie AND Lucky should retire to a sanctuary, before it is too late. What the San Antonio Zoo is offering them is just not good enough. The USDA using the accreditation line when the Zoo is so poor, is just pathetic.

We have written letters to USDA and decision makers in Washington and San Antonio, and have made phone calls to some relevant offices. We are happy knowing that many good people and organizations are doing their part – and we continue to strategize together with some about how to move forward.

The swaying of confined elephants like Lucky shown in the video below is extremely disturbing – because it is so symptomatic of a life of social and physical deprivation. With nowhere to go and no one to see, no new smells to investigate and nothing to strive for elephants become bored and frustrated. The result? They stand in one place rocking, back and forth slowly losing their minds. Well, wouldn’t we do the same given similar circumstances?

Why do we humans feel such a need to confine and control other animals? Is our pleasure in seeing them captive worth the cruelty that we inflict on them? Elephants are intelligent socially complex individuals who have the same basic needs that we have: Freedom and autonomy, companionship and affection, just to name a few.

I often try to put myself in the elephants’ shoes, so to speak. Ever had to stand waiting for that bus or train that never comes? Feet and back aching? I, too, start to step from one foot to the other. I, too, rock back and forth, I sway. But I don’t wait for transport for weeks, for months, for years. I have the freedom to choose to go. We need to wake up to the reality of what we are doing to other creatures and stop hiding behind a lot of constructed arguments for keeping elephants in this way. In our enlightened society elephants should not have to live like this any longer – Queenie and Lucky, and other elephants in their circumstance should go to a sanctuary where they have space to roam in the company of other elephants.

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