July 30th, 2010 by Nicole Meyer
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. A vigil is planned for Sunday, August 1st at the zoo.