My mom just forwarded me an online petition regarding Winky and Wanda, the Detroit Zoo's Asian elephants. The girls are getting on in years, and the Zoo would like to send them to a nice big elephant sanctuary in a warm place (Tennesee or California) where their arthritis and other health problems wouldn't be so burdensome. Here's what Hugh McDiarmid at the Freep has to say about it.
Seems like the right thing to do, right? Well, apparently other members of the American Zoo Association are protesting the move; their counter proposal is that the elephants be sent to the Columbus Zoo instead. There are already elephants there, and the climate's not a whole lot better. The hard concrete of their winter lodgings gets woodchips sprinkled on it "from time to time to break up the monotony" and the animals would still not have enough space. This wouldn't be any kindness to Winky and Wanda.
The people circulating the petition believe the other zoos are being snarky about this because it's an ethical slap in the face: here's the Detroit Zoo making a decision based entirely on the elephants' comfort, and not on keeping a big draw (elephants mean money to zoos). I'm not sure this is completely accurate. I've known of other zoos that have yielded their animals when it seemed to be in the animals' best interest, and I do believe that many zoos do try to balance ethics with the bottom line. The whole question of whether there should be zoos or not--and I struggle with that--aside, I've seen that zoos like our own Oakland and (increasingly) San Francisco zoo do try to do the right thing. But sending these elephants from Detroit to Columbus just seems wrong.
It's also interesting because if you read the signatures on the petition, some of the comments give a lot of insight into why other people are supporting the proposed animal sanctuary move. Here's what Nancy, signatory number 3,070, has to say on the matter:
Any show of ethical behavior in Detroit should be applauded. It's in the Bible that we are responsible to treat animals with care, and I believe we will hear from the Creator on how we dealt with His other creatures.I am, as I'm sure is obvious, usually pretty uncomfortable when people talk about God's will in anything, but here we have people (and Nancy's not the only one) representing their faith as a humane one, and I respect that.
I signed the petition. I hope you'll consider doing so too. Here's one more interesting article, from the Humane Society of the United States, that goes into more detail on the AZA, standards for elephant care, and so on. And here's a cute piece about the opening of the Detroit Zoo; it seems that the people who built the zoo were told that if they didn't get the enclosures finished on schedule, the animals would be housed with them.
And the elephant pictured above is neither Winky nor Wanda, but their predecessor Paulina, who also helped build the zoo.