Saturday, August 29, 2009

Activists oppose Auckland zoo's elephant plan

Last updated 17:50 30/08/2009
Animals rights activists are opposing plans to increase elephant numbers at the Auckland Zoo following Kashin's death.

The 40-year-old Asian elephant was put down last Monday because of her deteriorating health. She was suffering from arthritis, foot abscesses and skin infections.

Auckland Zoo director Jonathan Wilcken said the zoo hoped to replace Kashin in the next six to 12 months and had long-term plans to extend the elephant area.

"We want to establish a much larger breeding herd of elephants that replicates a natural social structure for elephants," he said.

The zoo would work with the European Elephant Breeding Programme to secure suitable breeding elephants.

However, Saving Animals From Exploitation (SAFE) campaign director Hans Kriek strongly opposed the plan.

He quoted recent research which showed most elephants died considerably earlier in zoos than they would in the wild.

"Kashin is a perfect example. Her problems – arthritis and feet problems – are very common in captive elephants," he said.

"That's one of the main reasons they have to be euthanased – they just don't cope."

If the zoo was acting in remaining elephant Burma's best interests, they would relocate her to an open range zoo where she could have the company of her own kind.

The zoo could the use the space opened up by the elephant exhibitions closure to give a better environment for other animals that were in" relatively cramped spaces", he said.

"Internationally, there are a number of zoos moving away from keeping elephants simply because they realise they cannot provide them with the environment they need.

"An elephant in the wild on average will roam for 50km a day. What sort of a zoo enclosure can come close to that?"

The zoo today offered free admission to mark Kashin's passing, with more than 17,000 taking the chance to visit.

Mr Wilcken said the public was invited to see Kashin's burial spot, an area the elephant loved, which was not usually open to the public.

"We would take her (walking) around the four corners of the zoo and this was a particular area she loved," Mr Wilcken said.