Friday, June 24, 2005

Michael: The Elephant Stampede

I am all for treating elephants humanely, but I wonder if 8.5 million for a new elephant facilty shouldn't be spent on more urgent public priorities. A cause this appealing may very well find sufficient private funding without government subsidy. The Council may have made hasty pudding of the elephant issue in a rush to please the pachyderms at the expense of thorough deliberation.

The American Zoological Association issued a directive that all suitable African elephants in US facilities should be bred in order to assist with species preservation efforts. A larger elephant facility is needed in Tucson only if our African elephant is going to be bred in situ at Reid Park Zoo. A male would have to be brought in (or artificial insemination used) and the new baby would require more privacy and more space than existing facilities provide. RPZ’s concern seems to be that if our African elephant must be transfered to another zoo to breed, our Asian elephant will be left alone (contrary to AZA guidelines for social animals such as elephants) and will also have to be transfered elsewhere, leaving RPZ without elephants indefinitely. That is why they are pushing hard to fund the new facilities: they want to breed elephants, and they want to avoid any risk of losing elephants as part of their collection.

Possibly a compromise would be to send our African to another larger facility to breed, and to find a suitable companion for our Asian elephant from another facility so that Tucson can still have elephants, but also doesn’t have to splash out 8.5 million for a new elephant breeding habitat. I don’t know if it is possible to obtain another elephant who needs a home, but it seems that RPZ is discounting the possibility very heavily and seems quite sure that if they transfer the African to breed that they will almost certainly lose the Asian as well. They may know all too well the odds against finding our Asian a suitable companion, or they could have a developed institutional tunnel vision focused on the exciting possibility of expanding the elephant habitat and breeding our African here. If it is the latter, then there may be a way for Tucson to save the money and keep elephants at RPZ, an outcome which all parties would likely accept.

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