Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Different fates for elephants

Posted: 8 November 2006


This summer we were delighted to be reunited with Pat Derby and Ed Stewart of the Performing Animal Welfare Society with a visit to their California sanctuary. Previously we have addressed the PAWS annual conference and ADI was awarded the PAWS prize for our work exposing the abuse of performing animals.

Since 2000 PAWS been developing 2,300 acres of beautiful natural habitat in San Andreas as a sanctuary for elephants – mainly rescued from the circus industry. The facility sets the gold standard for captive elephants; providing the space and diversity of environment that these animals need. The lucky animals at PAWS would have been broken or even died as a result of their captivity had they not been rescued.

In stark contrast during our visit, were events unfolding at Los Angeles Zoo. In June, Gita, one of the zoo’s Asian elephants, collapsed and died – the second elephant death at the zoo in two years. LA Zoo medical records reveal that Gita was suffering from severe foot infections and arthritis – tragically common, painful, ailments in captive elephants forced to stand on concrete for long periods. “I will be astonished if she lives another six months,” said zoo and wildlife veterinarian, Dr. Mel Richardson, after observing Gita and reviewing her medical records in 2005. “Gita had osteomyelitis in her toes and was losing bone in her feet. She was in pain daily."

Animal advocates had warned the L.A. Zoo that Gita’s condition would only worsen unless she was moved to a sanctuary. The Zoo refused. “One has to seriously question the motives of the L.A. Zoo, which claims to care for elephants yet refuses to heed the warnings of respected and qualified veterinarians and elephant experts who show genuine concern for the health and well-being of captive elephants” stated Jennifer Blum, Program Director for ADI’s San Francisco office.

In the wild, elephants are not prone to many of the life-shortening ailments that they suffer in captivity, because they walk on natural earth and rocks; they roam freely (over 30 miles per day) in climates that are natural for their species. It is simply not possible to properly re-create this in a man-made environment in the limited space available in a zoo.

© Animal Defenders International 2019