Shameful and Undignified
"Shameful" and "undignified" are the words we have used to describe the scene at the Oklahoma City Zoo last January as Chai, the captive elephant, was hoisted to her feet using massive rigging equipment, after she had been found lying helplessly on the ground for a third time just before her death in January 2016. Even before the traumatic move from Seattle to Oklahoma City, Chai had been experiencing severe health problems including massive weight loss (1,000 lbs!), bacterial infections, and as many as 25 untreated pus-filled abscesses throughout her body. Chai sadly died last year at the age of just 37, a figure entirely too small considering that the median age for elephants in captivity is 47. The response from the zoo concerning Chai's untimely death was simply, "There hadn’t been anything that raised a red flag. She had been in good health."
The lengths to which zoo officials will go to obfuscate the truth and defer blame is both stupefying in its callousness and astonishing in its brazen disregard for the facts. A first-of-its-kind 2012 Investigation into elephant captivity by the Seattle Times, looking into the deaths of 390 elephants over the past 50 years at accredited US zoos, found that most elephants die from injury or disease linked to conditions of their captivity. Of 321 elephant deaths for which there were complete records, the study found that half were dead before the age of 23, well in advance of their median lifespan in captivity and even further from their expected lifespan in the wild of 50-60 years. Captive elephants succumb to many health issues directly related to their captivity such as chronic foot disease associated with standing on hard and improper surfaces, as well as musculoskeletal disorders associated with days and weeks of inactivity from being chained to a single location. It has been a full year since the untimely and tragic death of Chai, and nearly five years since the Seattle Times' damning investigation into captive elephants, and the response from zoo officials regarding this stark disparity in expected lifespan is simply a glib statement, "Some elephants die sooner, and some live longer."
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