Environment Forum

Jumbo zoo battle rages in Dallas over elephant’s fate

October 17, 2008

A jumbo animal-welfare battle is raging in Dallas over the fate of Jenny the elephant, a long-time resident of the city’s zoo.

Elephant

It is a battle over one animal but is part of a wider war over issues like the role of zoos in conservation.

The scrap heated up in June when the Dallas Zoo announced that it planned to move Jenny, a 32-year-old African elephant, to a Mexican Safari Park to make room for an in-coming giraffe. Jenny’s pachyderm companion Keke had passed away the month before.

This triggered an uproar from animal rights and welfare groups. Mexico? People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) fumed that she would not get minimal protections there regarding her welfare and treatment.

Concerns were also raised about the size of the enclosure in Mexico and the fact that Jenny’s companions would apparently be Asian and not African elephants, which some experts say does not make for a friendly mix.

The favorite alternative pushed by animal welfare groups is the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, a large reserve with lots of room for what elephants do best — ambling and eating. Supporters of this plan say it would give Jenny more room to live out the rest of her life (she’s already getting up there by elephant standards).

But Dallas Zoo officials have said it does not meet minumum standards of elephant care and in August announced Jenny would stay put and that they would expand her enclosure or habitat.

The battle rages on. Actress/comedian Lily Tomlin came to Dallas this past week in a bid to persuade city and zoo officials to send Jenny to Tennessee.

“The word zoo is elephant speak for Guantanamo,” Tomlin was quoted as saying in the Dallas Morning News – a clear shot at zoos in general.

Dallas Zoo said on Friday, however, that it has just found a companion elephant for Jenny, removing one of the main reasons for moving her in the first place. 

Many animal rights activists deplore zoos on the grounds that they provide too little space and make animals “objects” for human entertainment; zoo defenders point to their role in conserving endangered species, the care given to their charges, and the role they play in public education.

In defense of zoos, Yann Martel asks in the Booker Prize winning novel ‘Life of Pi’: “Would you rather be put up at the Ritz with free room service and unlimited access to a doctor or be homeless without a soul to care for you?”

What do you think? Should Jenny be moved to Tennessee or some other place where she has lots of room? Or should she stay put? And what do you think about zoos? Are they cruel and confining or the Ritz for critters?

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