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Another Unexplained Elephant Death: Dondi Dies at the Southwick’s Zoo (Mass.)

July 30th, 2010 by Nicole Meyer

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IDA filed a complaint today with the USDA, urging an investigation into the death of Dondi, an Asian elephant held at the Southwick’s Zoo in Mendon, Massachusetts. She died on Wednesday, after suffering an unidentified illness. Dondi’s unexpected death raises a red flag because at age 36 she should have been in the prime of life.

The Southwick’s Zoo has a history of using elephants for performances and rides during the summer months. Before Dondi, an elephant named Judy was leased from the notorious Hawthorn Corporation (one of the many elephants the company was forced to relinquish due to serious violations of the Animal Welfare Act). She died in 2007, and was found to have tuberculosis.

Dondi, who is “owned” by Phil Schacht, also was used for performances and to give rides at the Southwick’s Zoo during the summer. During the winter, she performed and gave rides at places like Flea World, a giant flea market and amusement park in Florida. It was a sad and unnatural life for an elephant.

Because of the unusual nature of Dondi’s death and the fact that she was in contact with the public, IDA has asked the USDA to investigate the circumstances surrounding it as a matter of public interest and public safety. Elephants can harbor diseases transmissible to humans, including tuberculosis, which can be difficult to detect. Release of the records would hopefully allay any public health concerns.

In a separate letter sent to Southwick’s Zoo President Justine Brewer, IDA urged the zoo to publicly release Dondi’s veterinary records and necropsy reports, saying, “The public has a right to know the cause of Dondi’s death.”

IDA further appealed to the zoo to end the practice of displaying elephants, as its tiny exhibit utterly fails to meet elephants’ needs. Dondi was held alone, in a small circle of dirt with no shade and no access to a pool. Elephants are highly social animals who, in the wild, live in large family groups in which females remain with their mothers for life. Asian elephants have a natural lifespan of 60-70 years. Recent scientific studies show that elephants in zoos die decades earlier than those in relatively protected wild populations.

What you can do

1. You can help ensure that the Southwick’s Zoo does not replace Dondi with another elephant by emailing the zoo president Justine Brewer at Justine@southwickszoo.com. Please be polite, as we are trying to convince Ms. Brewer to take this positive action. Tell her that the zoo should hold itself to a higher standard and do away with circus style elephant performances and rides that do nothing to educate the public about elephants’ natural lives.

2. If you live near enough to attend a demo at the Southwick’s Zoo, please contact Melissa at melissa275@netzero.com. A vigil is planned for Sunday, August 1st at the zoo.

93 Responses to “Another Unexplained Elephant Death: Dondi Dies at the Southwick’s Zoo (Mass.)”

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  79. January 19, 2011 at 3:57 pm, Kelly said:

    It has been confirmed that Dondi had severe lung damage and suffered from TB. Also, her molars fell out. As a result of her health problems she was not getting proper nutrition. Instead of treating her condition, her owners continued to put her on display and force her to work. She passed away due to the negligence of her owners. It is despicable that our government in the United States allows this animal abuse to continue w/these large animal acts. Our system failed to protect Dondi. The USDA is an absolute joke when it comes to animal rights. Rights of animals used in entertainment, and rights of animals in factory farms. Phil, Joshua, and his Mother are solely to blame for this elephant’s deteriorating condition and ultimate death because they failed to intervene.

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  80. September 14, 2010 at 12:50 am, Darlene Wood said:

    I sent an email. I cry over these animals. I will do my part to help.

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  81. August 31, 2010 at 8:03 pm, Melinda Chambers said:

    What really needs to be done is to go after those who create and reform the laws regarding the management of the these magnificent animals in captivity. If they’re going to be held in zoos, they should have more laws protecting them.
    On a side note to Smita, I have seen the calves in the petting zoo at Southwick. They are Jersey calves, a breed of diary cows, and are naturally much leaner than the typical beef cattle people see. They weren’t bred to hold a lot of meat on their bodies, as storing the fat would take away from their milk production.

    Reply

  82. August 22, 2010 at 6:16 pm, Smita Pazhayattil said:

    Dear lovers of Dondi,
    I am an Indian who migrated from India 6yrs ago. I visited Southwick zoo 3 yrs ago and then this month. I was sad to know that Dondi had passed away. So I went over to read about how old she was as I thought may be she must be quiet old. And I was surprised to see that she was only 36 yrs old. I could not believe it so I googled and came to this site. And I am really sad to know about the truth. I am glad that in all zoo visits I have never ever rode an animal. I thought this things dont happen in America. Where are the official who get payed by our tax money so that they can take care such things dont happen in America. Let me tell you I saw some calves in the petting area in the zoo this time and my first thought was why are they so frail looking and emanciated like they come from some famine land. the cows that roam around in Indian streets with no one to take care of them look healthier than them. But still I thought may be it has something to do with the weather or habitat. But animal abuse and neglect was the last thing in my mind. I am deeply saddened. I do not think I will ever be happy to take my kids to zoo ever again.
    Respectfully.

    Reply

  83. August 06, 2010 at 11:47 pm, Maude Duncan said:

    Now I’m worried about our elephant. She’s in her early 30′s too and not well or ” not well enough to move ” Her name is Lucy , at the Valley Zoo in Edmonton. Bob Barker has even been here and offered to pay for her trip to the sanctuary but the city won’t let her go. Check it out on youtube, There’s a court battle going on right now over her.

    Reply

  84. August 05, 2010 at 6:13 am, Elizabeth Gordon said:

    Here’s the text of the letter I sent:

    Hi Justine,

    I’ve just heard about Dondi’s premature death, and I first want to offer my sympathies.

    However, I strongly feel that zoos like yours should not attempt to keep elephants, and I urge you not to seek to “replace” Dondi with another one of her species. These animals evolved to migrate over hundreds of miles, and the females not only form strong family bonds, but they pass down elephant culture to their young. A zoo, which keeps elephants in a confined space and isolates them from others of their kind, is no friend to such intelligent and social animals.

    Please honor Dondi by making her the last elephant to ever be held captive in your zoo.

    Reply

  85. August 05, 2010 at 6:03 am, Elizabeth Gordon said:

    I’m sending an email now. It’s especially shameful to me that this occurred in my own state, Massachusetts.

    Reply

  86. August 04, 2010 at 2:56 pm, sherry mastromarino said:

    you know just because you people heal and save animals, which is the reason why most of them are there, but i guess not according to this zoo, does not give you the right to abuse animals. so you know long before most these animals got sick they had a life of there own in there natural habitat and they dont know why you are making them do these crazy things you make them do. she probably not only died from sickness , but also sadness to. STOP ABUSING ANIMALS ITS NOT RIGHT???

    Reply

  87. August 02, 2010 at 7:45 am, Miriam said:

    Betsey Brewer, one of the Southwick Zoo owners said that Dondi was “healthy.” Uh, I don’t know how to break it to you, Betsey, but Dondi is dead. You can’t get more unhealthy than that. In the film of Dondi down at Fleaworld in Florida, closeups of her feet look like maybe she had chronic foot disease.

    The Schachts may have thought they loved Dondi, but if they had really cared about her, they would have placed her in a sanctuary where she could live as an elephant. I believe the Schachts made money off of her. That taints everything!

    Reply

    • August 08, 2010 at 2:22 pm, Kelly said:

      That is exactly what they did. Dondi was nothing more than a meal ticket for them. I watched these people in action with Dondi, and if the way they treated her was their definition of love, then I can only surmise that they are insane. They are circus people. The strangest breed of person around! They knew nothing of conservation. Kidnapping an animal from another continent and forcing it to perform stupid tricks and give boring rides for its entire life is not conservation. This hurt me tremendously, as Dondi was the elephant responsible for getting me into activism for elephants. I cried when I first saw her and I cry still for her. I love you Dondi, I love you more than your keepers did. Joshua and Phil belong in a circus. They are ill.

      Reply

  88. July 30, 2010 at 6:54 pm, Stephanie Keene said:

    I sent an email also

    Reply

  89. July 30, 2010 at 5:04 pm, Nan Fariss said:

    I’m getting ready to write an E-mail also to the zoo about the “Dondi’s” death.
    It’s a crying shame what people do to these magnificent animals who deserve to live the life they were intended to, if not in the wild, at least in a sanctuary.
    Let’s keep pushing for the freedom of elephants in zoos and circuses.

    Nan

    Reply

  90. July 30, 2010 at 12:03 pm, linda said:

    It’s just wrong to keep animals like Dondi in such conditions.
    Animals living in an unnatural environment is wrong and inhumane…

    Reply

  91. July 30, 2010 at 11:49 am, S Morris said:

    ..almost like a circus seems to me,, poor Dondi.. rest in peace lovely girl.. angel hugs…

    Reply

  92. July 30, 2010 at 11:21 am, Steffi said:

    I wrote an email to Justine and hopefully, many more will. It’s just wrong to keep animals like Dondi in such conditions. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.
    Steffi

    Reply

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