I wrote last Wednesday about how an animal advocacy group has ranked the Oklahoma City Zoo as the worst for elephants, and the zoo’s response to the designation was, as expected, defensive and non-specific.
— Oklahoma City Zoo (@okczoo) January 11, 2017
The organization, In Defense of Animals, gave the ranking to the OKC Zoo based primarily on their treatment of two elephants it obtained relatively recently from the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. One of those elephants, 37-year-old Chai, died of a blood infection last year. The other elephant from Seattle, Bamboo, has been attacked and had a section of her tail bitten off. She has also gone on the attack.
Yet another OKC Zoo elephant, 4-year-old Malee, died in 2015 of the elephant herpes virus.
The ranking received widespread attention in the local media. The zoo’s response, which no doubt had to be approved by its director Dwight Lawson, did so in a way that deflected the issues raised by In Defense of Animals. Here is part of the statement:
In Defense of Animals uses deceitful tactics to manipulate the public in an effort to further their anti-zoo agenda. Their latest effort exploits sensitive images of one of the Oklahoma City Zoo’s elephants during an emergency medical care procedure. The group accompanies the images with false information about the health and well-being of zoo elephants.
Note the use of the language “deceitful tactics” and “exploits” and “false information” without giving a a shred of evidence. None of the full statement fully addresses the deaths of the two elephants or the fact that Bamboo has been attacked and has obviously had a difficult time fitting into what zoo officials insist on calling a “herd.” The elephants at the Oklahoma City don’t constitute a “herd” in any natural use or sense of that word. The zoo is simply avoiding the issues by deploying unsupported allegations by using charged rhetoric.
It’s also no secret that there are many animal welfare advocates throughout the world who oppose keeping larger animals in small enclosures in zoos. If that’s an anti-zoo agenda, then so what? Zoo leaders and elsewhere like to point out their work is beneficial because it raises awareness of larger animals in the wild, and no one can dispute some people who work at zoos definitely feel deeply and lovingly for the animals under their care, but large, wild animals belong in natural habitats.
The statement also claimed, according to a media report, that “Bamboo is healthy and doing great,” but many reports related to her health obtained through freedom of information requests over the last year show she continues to have foot problems and has to be isolated at times, not to even mention the attack she endured on her tail and also her trunk by another elephant or elephants.
Animal rights advocates in Seattle, Oklahoma City and across the nation continue to urge the OKC Zoo to send 49-year-old Bamboo to a sanctuary where she would have more room to roam in her last years of life.
In Defense of Animals said this, among other things, in response to the OKC Zoo’s defensive statement:
. . . We have no doubt that zoo personnel are grieving for Chai and Bamboo, but the Oklahoma City Zoo decided two years go to take charge of the pair and take on the responsibility of caring for them, knowing full well that they would be denying the elephants – for their entire lifetimes – the opportunity to live as close to their true nature as possible at a certified sanctuary. Now Chai has died, the Zoo should be looking inward rather than attacking organizations dedicated to animal welfare. We urge Oklahoma City Zoo to stop attacking the messenger and instead devote its energies to addressing the awful, solitary and isolated conditions in which it has now left Bamboo, by sending her to an accredited elephant sanctuary where she can live a more natural life with social companions and a reasonable level of autonomy, which is vitally important to the well-being of elephants.
Compare that to what the zoo had to say about the ranking, and it becomes clear to any intelligent person which side is really engaging in true debate without baseless accusations.
I think it’s important to note that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has just announced it will stop all performances in May primarily because of low ticket sales because many people these days are disturbed by the spectacle of large, wild animals brutally trained to do silly tricks for the amusement of humans.
It’s the OKC Zoo leadership that is out of touch and outside the trend, not animal welfare advocates.