The Elephant in the Room: The Dallas Zoo's Response to Concerned Citizens

Categories: News

Sean Greene, the Dallas Zoo's director of community relations, read yesterday's item about folks protesting the zoo's moving Jenny the elephant to the Africam Safari Park in Puebla, Mexico. Then he read the comments, which keep piling up from people who'd rather see Jenny sent to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. Then he decided to send along his own note -- well, two notes, actually. In the first, he addresses specific concerns and allegations made by Margaret Morin's group, Concerned Citizens for Jenny; the second item is an official Q&A offered by the Zoo to local media.

Notes Greene, who feels the Dallas Zoo's getting a bad rap here, "I've seen Margaret Morin a lot in the news and would love to know what her qualifications are as an 'elephant expert' other than loving them. I love basketball, but it doesn't mean I could coach a team." He also adds to his rebuttal a couple of addenda -- as in, "there is ABSOLUTELY NO CASH REMUNERATION coming to the Dallas Zoo as the result of Jenny going to Africam Safari Park" and "Africam Safari is a drive-thru wildlife park, set up similar to what you might see at Fossil Rim in Glen Rose. Animal rights groups like PETA are inaccurately describing this facility. One only needs to look their Web site to see their agenda is really to close down all zoos, period." Much, much, much more after the jump. --Robert Wilonsky

These are key points:

1) Jenny will not be alone. She will have another female African elephant (in her mid-20's) when she arrives and Africam is committed to expanding their African elephant herd.

2) Like the Dallas Zoo, Africam is AZA-accredited, just like Fort Worth Zoo, San Diego Zoo, Columbus Zoo and all your top zoos and aquariums in North America. For animal rights groups to say this is meaningless is an absolute testament to how little they know about wildlife care. Again, what are their qualifications other than that they are exercising their First Amendment rights? Personally, it's mind-boggling.

3) There are more than 3,000 USDA-licensed facilities in the United States. Dallas Zoo is licensed, Elephant Sanctuary is licensed, just about any place you can think of that houses wildlife. Only 10% of those facilities have been able to meet the rigorous and lofty standards to be AZA-accredited. Africam is AZA-accredited, and therefore meets and exceeds USDA standards for wildlife. Where are the checks and balances for a facility outside of the U.S.? Great question: through AZA. If any institution doesn't continue to meet the AZA standards, they can lose accreditation and their animals. For people to say AZA accreditation is meaningless shows how little they have done research on AZA. Check out the regulations and standards to be an accredited animal sanctuary versus a zoo or aquarium and see which one is more comprehensive.

4) The Dallas Zoo is not selling Jenny the elephant. She will be on loan to Africam safari, and we will be getting regular updates.

5) The Dallas Zoo had a choice to bring in more elephants to our exhibit that is over 50 years old. We chose to send her to a bigger place with excellent overall animal care, with AZA standards and where she can have the companionship of another female African elephant(s). Considering we are open to the public and there is a strong interest in elephants by the public, I think it's pretty commendable that we are moving elephants out for a few years until we can build one of the finest elephant facilities in the country. Unfortunately. that has been buried in the story. We didn't have to send her out, but we recognize parts of the Zoo need improvement, and we're willing to forgo what people might enjoy seeing here in order to do what's right for Jenny now and what's right for the Zoo as we move forward towards a bright future.

Dallas Zoo Chooses Africam Safari Park as Best AZA Facility for Jenny the Elephant

Question: Why is the Dallas Zoo sending its elephant to Africam Safari Park in Puebla, Mexico?

Answer: As an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), it was important for the Dallas Zoo to work with AZA-accredited zoos that meet the same standards and requirements for elephant management and care. AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums undergo a thorough review that includes a detailed accreditation application and a multiple day on-site inspection by a team of zoo and aquarium experts. Africam Safari Park located in Puebla, Mexico, is an AZA-accredited facility. Like the Dallas Zoo, they adhere to AZA standards that not only encompass USDA standards under the Animal Welfare Act, in many cases they exceed them. In addition, the Dallas Zoo has a strong knowledge of Africam Safari Park and has consulted with them on multiple occasions at their facility.

Question: Why not send Jenny to an elephant sanctuary?

Answer: As an AZA-accredited facility, the Dallas Zoo knows the extensive requirements for elephant management and the intense scrutiny each facility undergoes in order to obtain this certification. At this time, there are no AZA-accredited sanctuaries that house elephants.

The AZA has a 60-page accreditation packet with multiple pages dedicated specifically toward elephant management and care. These standards not only encompass USDA regulations, in many cases they exceed them.

Africam Safari Park has six full-time veterinarians, including one veterinarian that permanently resides on park grounds, a nutritionist, and six keepers dedicated to elephant care and an enrichment and training program. The Dallas Zoo has three full-time veterinarians and a full-time nutritionist on staff. The decision to send Jenny to Africam Safari Park was based on their ability to provide the best overall health care program for her. The Dallas Zoo feels most comfortable with facilities that are AZA-accredited and held to the AZA Standards for Elephant Management and Care.

Question: What makes Africam Safari Park an appropriate facility for Jenny? What regulations are in place to ensure her well being?

Answer: As mentioned, AZA-accreditation standards not only encompass USDA regulations under the Animal Welfare Act, they exceed them. Less than 10 percent of USDA licensed animal facilities in North America have achieved AZA-accreditation status.

While Africam Safari Park is located outside of the United States in Mexico, it still must maintain the high standards set forth by the AZA. In addition, the Dallas Zoo will retain ownership of Jenny the elephant and will receive regular updates on Jenny’s care and well being from Africam Safari Park as part of AZA-accreditation guidelines.

The management team at Africam Safari Park has made a commitment to expand their elephant herd. They will bring in an additional female African elephant by the end of the summer to serve as a companion for Jenny. In addition, Africam practices protected contact in managing its herd, as does the Dallas Zoo.

Question: What will happen to the Dallas Zoo’s current elephant habitat?

Answer: The Dallas Zoo will be acquiring several more giraffes over the next few months. The plan will be to renovate and expand the current giraffe and elephant habitats into one large giraffe area. This new habitat will provide plenty of space for several giraffes and will likely include interactive opportunities for the public to see these majestic animals up close.

Question: Will elephants return to the Dallas Zoo?

Answer: Yes. The Dallas Zoo is committed to having elephants long-term at the Dallas Zoo. Elephants have been a part of the Dallas Zoo since 1923 and plans are underway for a new African savanna exhibit.

Question: How can I learn more about the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Standards for Elephant Management and Care?

Answer: You can visit www.aza.org and click on “Animal Management”. Scroll down and click on “Board Approved Policies” where you can find the Standards for Elephant Care and Management.



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