Thursday, February 08, 2007

Pachyderm Liberation

No sooner do they get criticized for the prison conditions that they keep elephants in, than the Edmonton Zoo folks tell us all is well.

Except it ain't. Last fall one of the elephants injured her trunk on the fence at the zoo. The zoo enclosure is too small and what the heck are we doing keeping tropical animals in a boreal region in an outdoors Zoo.

And this is the same reactionary defense of the indefensible, that Zoo Check got when they denounced West Edmonton Mall for their enclosure and imprisonment of Dolphins,all died except Howard who was secretly shipped out in the middle of the night.

Zoocheck Canada, a Toronto-based animal rights group, says Edmonton’s cold climate and small zoo enclosure are making the zoo’s two elephants, Lucy and Samantha, sick, stressed and bored.

Spokesman Julie Woodyer said today that renowned African elephant expert Winnie Kiiru, project manager of the Amboseli Human-Elephant Conflict Project in Kenya, visited several Canadian zoos last fall and determined that the climate is too cold and enclosures too compact at many facilities in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec.

“After reviewing all of the elephant enclosures in Canadian zoos, it is my opinion that the Edmonton Valley Zoo is the worst at this time,” Kiiru said in her report, released last month.

“The climate in Edmonton is completely inappropriate for elephants.”

In her conclusion, she recommends that the “City of Edmonton take immediate action to move Lucy and Samantha to a sanctuary that can provide them with a more appropriate physical and social environment and to close the elephant exhibit at this zoo.”

And it's not just Edmonton, Zoo Check has criticized the famous Calgary Zoo for elephant breeding.

Female elephants are matriarchal social animals, needing to be in a group, which is not what occurs in Zoo's or circuses.

Elephants live in a very structured social order. The social lives of male and female elephants are very different. The females spend their entire lives in tightly knit family groups made up of mothers, daughters, sisters, and aunts. These groups are led by the eldest female, or matriarch. Adult males, on the other hand, live mostly solitary lives.

The social circle of the female elephant does not end with the small family unit. In addition to encountering the local males that live on the fringes of one or more groups, the female's life also involves interaction with other families, clans, and subpopulations. Most immediate family groups range from five to fifteen adults, as well as a number of immature males and females. When a group gets too big, a few of the elder daughters will break off and form their own small group. They remain very aware of which local herds are relatives and which are not.

Elephants are also self aware, that is they have the ability to think and communicate. Thus it is unconscionable to keep them imprisoned and neither Zoo can defend its actions as being good for the animals, the species, or science.

From a study reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an Asian elephant housed at the Bronx Zoo in New York, repeatedly touched a white cross painted above its eye, when it saw this mark reflected in a large mirror. Another mark made on the forehead in colourless paint, was ignored, showing that it was not the smell or feeling which caused the interest. Elephants are among the very small number of species such as the great apes and Bottlenose Dolphins capable of self-recognition.

Elephants in Zoos and Circuses in North America are the direct result of the Slave Trade and are the last vestige of that original Atlantic trade that brought Africa to the attention of North America's colonizers.

The Geography Of The Atlantic Slave Trade

"Chart of the Sea Coasts of Europe, Africa, and America . . ."
From John Thornton, The Atlas Maritimus of the Sea Atlas.
London, ca. 1700.
Geography and Map Division. (1-11)

This map's elaborate cartouche (drawing), embellished with an elephant and two Africans, one holding an elephant tusk, emphasizes the pivotal role of Africa in the Atlantic trading network. The South Atlantic trade network involved several international routes. The best known of the triangular trades included the transportation of manufactured goods from Europe to Africa, where they were traded for slaves. Slaves were then transported across the Atlantic--the infamous middle passage--primarily to Brazil and the Caribbean, where they were sold. The final leg of this triangular trade brought tropical products to Europe. In another variation, manufactured goods from colonial America were taken to West Africa; slaves were carried to the Caribbean and Southern colonies; and sugar, molasses and other goods were returned to the home ports.

19th Century European Zoo's contained not just Elephants and other African flora and fauna, but Africans as well. Today we keep Elephants in their place. And our attitudes towards Elephants, as well as other species, as being self aware and cognitive is the same as it was towards indigenous peoples.

A Human zoo (also called "ethnological expositions" or "Negro Villages") was a 19th and 20th century public exhibit of human beings usually in their natural or "primitive" state. These displays usually emphasized the cultural differences between indigenous and traditional peoples and Western publics. Ethnographic zoos were often predicated on unilinealism, scientific racism, and a version of Social Darwinism. A number of them placed indigenous people (particularly Africans) in a continuum somewhere between the great apes and human beings of European descent
A herd of elephants march in on Coney Island
Entrepreneur William Reynolds, who billed the city as The Riviera of the East, had a herd of elephants march in from his Dreamland on Coney Island in about 1907, ostensibly to help build the boardwalk, but in reality to generate publicity.
(Long Beach Historical and Preservation Society)

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