IDA had urged Brookfield Zoo Director Stuart Strahl to send Christy to an elephant sanctuary after the zoo's other elephant, Affie, died May 15.
The zoo is awaiting results of an autopsy. (I don't like to use "necropsy" because it implies a difference between people and animals.)
IDA has speculated that a foot ailment that resulted from walking on hard concrete was the cause of death. A zoo press release stated that the facility had created a sand pile Affie could lean on indoors and had installed special flooring. Veterinarian Elliott Katz, who founded IDA, said both "are often prescribed for elephants suffering from serious foot and joint ailments." Strahl denies a foot ailment caused Affie's death.
Some dispute also exists over how "old" Affie was. Her age isn't in question -- she was either 39 or 40 years old, depending on reports -- but rather if she should be considered "geriatric."
Geriatric care is an increasing emphasis of CZS [Chicago Zoological Society] because animals, on average, are living longer in the care of zoos. The expertise gained from caring for Affie during the past several years will contribute to the zoological community's care of geriatric elephants.This part of the zoo's press release makes it sound like zoo animals are healthier than ever and that Affie's death has a bright spot.
The press release also implies Affie lived much longer than typical elephants.
According to a 2004 scientific study conducted by Robert J. Wiese, Ph.D., and Kevin Willis, the average life expectancy for female African elephants in North American zoos is 33 years. The report further states that this life expectancy value is similar to the life expectancy of wild elephants.While these statistics are true -- poaching is often the reason for the low life expectancy of wild elephants -- a 2008 study in the journal Science reported that the median life expectancy for elephants in a national park in Kenya is 56 years old.
If Affie had had the proper amount of space and an earthen floor, perhaps she could have lived another 10 years.
Elephants travel 30 miles a day. The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is 2,700 acres. In contrast, the animals' exhibit at Brookfield Zoo is only a quarter-acre, according to Katz, and the elephants spend winters indoors.
Sixteen U.S. zoos have closed or plan to close their elephant exhibits. In recent years, zoos in Los Angeles, Anchorage and Philadelphia joined a growing list of zoos that have opted to send elephants to sanctuaries.Instead of following this trend, Strahl has spoken out against "animal extremist groups" and has vowed to expand Brookfield Zoo's elephant program.
The IDA protest of Brookfield Zoo is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday, June 20, at the north entrance of the zoo, at 31st Street and Golf Road in Brookfield.
(Photo of Affie courtesy of Brookfield Zoo. Photo of Sissy courtesy of The Elephant Sanctuary.)