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Trouble Ahead for Oregon Zoo Elephants

February 8th, 2013 by Nicole Meyer

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Animal Protection Organizations Warn That More Trouble Lies Ahead for Oregon Zoo Elephants

Portland, Ore. (February 8, 2013)  – In an effort to fend off ongoing criticism, the Oregon Zoo announced it has purchased the legal rights to a baby elephant named Lily, and her father Tusko, from an elephant-rental company. While In Defense of Animals (IDA) and the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) are glad these two elephants will now be spared from a life of commercial exploitation with Have Trunk Will Travel, the animal protection groups remain deeply skeptical about the welfare and future of the elephants at the Oregon Zoo.

“Public pressure from people worldwide forced the Oregon Zoo to acquire Lily and Tusko. Yet, even if the zoo maintains legal rights to these elephants it doesn’t prevent the zoo from loaning them out to other zoos,” said Nicole Meyer, Director of IDA’s Elephant Protection Campaign. “The Oregon Zoo has a miserable record of prematurely separating vulnerable baby elephants from their mothers and there is nothing to stop them from doing it again.”

“The Oregon Zoo has a responsibility to allow baby Lily to remain with her mother for the duration of their lives,” said Stephen Wells, Executive Director of the ALDF. “We continue to have grave concerns about the well-being of elephants at the Oregon Zoo and the zoo’s priorities.”

The zoo industry, backed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, routinely shuffles elephants from zoo to zoo for purposes that include breeding. Bull elephants especially have it tough in the zoo industry—they’re costly to keep and need to be segregated from female elephants when they get older. Now, the Oregon Zoo has three male elephants forced to share a cramped exhibit with five other elephants.

In its reckless pursuit to breed elephants, the Oregon Zoo has yet to break ground on any meaningful plan to ensure the future of its pachyderms. The zoo quietly shifted strategy for a remote center to a plan that is very different from what voters approved in 2008. Rather than using the center as a second home for the zoo’s existing elephants, the zoo now plans to expand its elephant breeding program, buy more elephants, and use the center as a breeding facility.

“This apparent shift in strategy raises serious questions as to whether the zoo is being transparent with taxpayer money, and whether the zoo considers the welfare of its existing elephants a priority,” said Meyer. “Many of these elephants suffer from diseases directly related to captivity and lack of space, which will only worsen in the zoo’s antiquated exhibit.”