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  운영자 2005-02-14 17:39:26 | Hit : 8701 | Vote : 2355
Subject   [소식] DETROIT ZOO ELEPHANT DECISION
DETROIT ZOO ELEPHANT DECISION: Director answers critics, explains why he put animals' needs first
June 17, 2004

BY HUGH MCDIARMID JR.
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER

The Detroit Zoo's decision to send its two elephants, Winky and Wanda, to a sanctuary created international news last month because the zoo is the first major animal facility in the nation, and perhaps the world, to give up elephants solely on ethical grounds.

GIVING TO THE ZOO

The Detroit Zoo's annual fund-raiser, Sunset at the Zoo, will be held from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday at the zoo in Royal Oak. For more information on helping the zoo, call 248-541-5835 or visit www.detroitzoo.org.

Director Ron Kagan said he and his staff believe that although the zoo's 1-acre enclosure far exceeds professional standards, it is nonetheless inadequate for elephants, whose social, intellectual and physical needs exceed those of other large animals.

The decision has drawn skepticism from the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, whose director, Sydney Butler, publicly criticized news media coverage of the issue, saying it contributed to "emotional ballyhoo, fractured partnerships, mistrust, pious posturing and inflammatory comparisons of prison-like zoos to Eden-like sanctuaries."

The Detroit Zoo is awaiting decisions on whether the move will be endorsed by the AZA's Elephant Species Survival Plan and the San Antonio Zoo, which technically owns one of the elephants.

Kagan shared some of his thoughts on the issuelast week.

QUESTION: What's been the reaction to sending Winky and Wanda elsewhere?

ANSWER: Well, not surprisingly, it's mixed. There have been a number of people who've been upset by the decision. First of all, they feel if you don't have elephants, what about the other animals here? Why would it be any better for them? And there are other people who believe we should just spend the money to make things wonderful and that people really want elephants. But I think there are other people who feel that the world of animals is here for us, for our enjoyment. Not that they would want us to intentionally harm any animal, but that our real commitment should be to the people, not the animals.

But fortunately, there have also been many people who have lauded our decision. And we've gotten phone calls ande-mails and letters from not only the region but all over the country and also abroad. Many of them very, very supportive.

And then we've also gotten a response from our colleagues, and my sense from reading the letter the head of the AZA wrote was they thought this was not such a great idea. But there have been a few colleagues who have told us they applaud what we're doing.

Q: What are the percentages?

A: I hesitate to tell you because I don't think it's a true sample of the general public. But I would say we've probably heard from a thousand people and probably 10 have been negative.

Q: Do you know where the elephants are going yet?

A: We don't know. We clearly want them to go to a place that we think meets reasonable criteria. But we're also trying to work within the system. The initial response from the AZA has been a little bit ambiguous. They're clearly reminding us that this decision is more their decision than it is ours, in terms of where they go.

But we're trying to explain: This is not about sanctuary versus zoo. We simply want them to go to a good place. And if there is such a place at a zoo, fine.

Q: Why do you need permission from the AZA's Elephant Species Survival Plan and the San Antonio Zoo?

A: We need permission from San Antonio legally. For the AZA, we need approval or we risk losing our accreditation. We're obviously hoping it doesn't come to that. We've had some discussions, and they've told us they are working through their process.

Q: The two sanctuaries being considered are in Tennessee and California. Are elephant sanctuaries in the United States AZA accredited?

A: No. But I think the AZA needs to be careful about its questioning other standards. Because in our view, AZA standards are inadequate. What we've seen with two sanctuaries is that they far exceed AZA standards and far exceed all -- or almost all -- AZA institutions. So there may be a theoretical disagreement here, but I think on a practical level, AZA is not really in a position to be challenging this.

We are trying to get as much clarity as we can from both sanctuaries about specifics of their veterinary care. We know, for instance, that the sanctuary in California has the services of veterinarians from the University of California at Davis, one of the finest exotic-animal vet schools in the country. And they have very seasoned, experienced vets that work with them on a regular basis.

So I think it's unfortunate that the questions are directed in this way when really, AZA should focus on elevating its own guidelines, its own standards and its own commitment.

Q: Other animals have more space and stimulation in their natural habitats than they do at the Detroit Zoo, such as chimpanzees, giraffes. Why is it OK to keep them, but not the elephants?

A: The bottom line is, all animals need to have healthy physical, social and psychological environments, and that is different for different species. What's good for an elephant is not necessarily good for a mouse, or what is good for a frog is not necessarily good for a zebra.

From what we can tell, we see elephants constantly damaged -- physically and psychologically -- from captive environments. We do not see that in a zebra or in the giraffe or even in a chimpanzee, if they are kept in the best sort of captive environments that exist. You have to be a bit more deep than saying every animal needs the same things. They don't.

We do know we're able to see damage in some species, and we don't see it in others. Giraffes seem fine. Chimpanzees in our environment -- one of the biggest and best in the world -- seem fine. Is it the same as in the wild? No. Here, they have unlimited food. They have lots of social interactions here. On elephants we're missing on all counts: We're missing on the weather, we're missing on the social situation, we're missing on the physical environment. That doesn't exist with the other animals.

Q: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has applauded this move. They are considered extremists by many people. Is there a danger in being linked with them -- that people will consider you an extremist?

A: One of the unfortunate side effects is you get labeled, as a person or an institution. You get labeled as an angel, you get labeled as a crazy, you get dismissed, you get marginalized as extremist or flaky. And all of that is unfortunate because it misses the point.

The point is, we're experts on animals, and we have to always attempt to do what is right for the animals. We don't always get it right. The issue is not what people's opinion is about us, it's real discussion about the issues. And to the extent that PETA or anybody else has insight into what makes sense, we welcome that.

Q: Won't this devastate the zoo staff that works with the elephants? Won't it be like losing a pet dog? A several-ton pet dog?

A: I think that knowing -- or at least, believing -- you're doing what's right for something you care about is a terrific place to be. I think they and I all feel we are doing what is best for the animals. It does require being mature about close relationships, because obviously, these people love the animals.

Q: What does Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick think about this? He's your boss.

A: He's been awesome. For him, this also was a path that was sort of like, "Really? I had no idea the elephants weren't happy." He said, "Do what you think is best."

Q: The elephants are on the zoo water tower and letterhead. Are you going to remove them?

A: No plans. It's not like elephants don't exist anymore. Not all the animals in the animal kingdom are here, nor will they be.

Q: Final thoughts?

A: You know, one of my great joys as I walk around the park is visiting animals we've rescued, real live animals. Sometimes, when you work in conservation, you're saving species. There isn't a real individual story. Wanda and Winky are two elephants that represent a much bigger issue and a bigger story for zoos. I look at animals that we've rescued. I look at Siberian Sun, our race horse, and look at Barle (a polar bear rescued from a traveling Mexican circus). And I look at Wanda and Winky and realize they're going to end up like those animals. They're going to end up in a situation where they're not only loved as they are here, but they're going to have a much better physical, social and psychological environment.

Part of it is understanding we're voyeurs of nature, and we need to respect the difference and not try to turn them into pets.

Contact HUGH McDIARMID JR. at 248-351-3295 or mcdiarmid@freepress.com.
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