Thursday, August 21, 2008

Jenny Elephant Deserves Better

Several days ago, I received a shock that felt almost like a kick to the stomach. My first zoo, the place where I learned all the joys and sorrows of being a zookeeper, is letting me down in a gigantic way. Perhaps the romantic in me wanted to see the Dallas Zoo as a better place, even though they share the same big business mentality of most zoos, often sacrificing the animals well being to the promise of the almighty dollar. Still, it was my learning ground, the place where I first sank my teeth into the zoo keeping industry. In fact, many of the people I admire most still work there. My blinders remained firmly in place until I got a phone call from a friend to say the zoo had decided to send Jenny elephant to Mexico.

Jenny has lived at the Dallas Zoo for many years in an exhibit much too small and not at all suited to the largest land mammal. Her exhibit was at least updated since I worked there in the early nineties in an effort to meet the AZA's (American Association of Zoos and Aquariums) pitiful standards for this species. Their so-called standards still rate well below what the species needs for a healthy and long life. Most captive elephants die well before they reach the lifespan of their wild counterparts, and when you take into consideration that wild elephants face poachers, human encroachment, and predation to their young, a shorter life expectancy is pitiful indeed. However, only a very few forward thinking zoos have admitted what the industry has known for years. Elephants should not be kept in zoos. Perhaps the new sanctuaries cropping up around the country will provide what these animals need. It's too soon to tell for sure, but at least they offer something different, something new that comes much closer to giving these massive animals a chance for a longer, healthier captive life. What does all of this have to do with Jenny? Stick with me, I'm getting there, but first I have to give you some background.

Jenny, like many of her zoo counterparts, was taken from the wilds of Africa and brought to the Dallas Zoo through an animal broker. This does not mean that the Dallas Zoo necessarily sent someone out to hunt her down, wrangle her up, and load her into a truck. (There I go defending them again.) The truth is more likely something like this; Dallas put an add out via the AZA bulletin saying they were interested in acquiring an elephant, and the animal brokers contacted them listing what animals they had available. Jenny was one of two elephants the Dallas Zoo chose from the list. The other animal's name was Moja. I was told they were sisters by one of their keepers, but I have never verified this, and it could just be a romantic story passed down over the years. Regardless, I have often imagined Jenny and Moja huddled together in the back of some truck jarring their way out of the bush after having watched their mother die attempting to defend them. If this isn't truth, it's certainly plausible. I remember the two of them together, tightly bonded and affectionate. I have a photo of them on exhibit leaning side to side while they ate their hay. The day I took the photo, I watched them rub their trunks together and rumble, seeming more contented than I ever expected while standing in their tiny concrete world.

One morning I arrived at the zoo parking lot to hear a screaming sound rolling down the hill from the large mammal barn. It was followed by clashing and banging. I remember dropping my bag and running up the hill to find out what was happening. Although I was not an elephant keeper, I was close friends with the Animal Care Manager of the Large Mammal Barn, and I often accompanied him to feed Jenny and Moja treats and show my affection to them. Jenny liked to sniff my pockets and my shoes with her trunk and she often leaned against me and rumbled, a greeting elephants use among family members in the wild. Let's just say I'd grown very attached to her. I still have nightmares about the day I first heard Jenny's screams.

When I made it to the top of the hill, I realized Moja was lying dead in her stall. We later found out her heart had stopped due to a fast-acting disease that causes swelling and fluid in the linings around the organ. As was common practice in those days, Jenny was chained in the stall next to Moja unable to touch her friend. She would reach her trunk out, coming just shy of touching Moja, straining against her chains. Then, she would beat her head against the wall, scream, kick, and thrash around. A trail of wet was running down her face below both eyes. The keepers tried to calm her, but they couldn't. Eventually, the zoo administrators ordered Moja hooked up to a crane, and they dragged her out of the building and off exhibit where she wouldn't be seen by the public when they arrived. The whole time, Jenny beat her head, yelling and thrashing until the walls rattled.

Jenny became volatile after that day, prone to uncontrollable rages, lashing out at her keepers. For safety, the zoo was forced to change their management style with elephants in order to keep all physical contact between Jenny and her keepers to a minimum. Jenny lost the touch of her companion and the touch of her keepers virtually on the same day. She has yet to fully recover. Over the years, the zoo has given her anti-depressants, even tranquilizers, to calm her. They have also tried several other companion elephants, but Jenny refused most of them. Sometimes, loud noises would set her off, things like music during special events, loud machinery, strange vehicles, or equipment being used in the area. She has broken the cables in her exhibit with her head more than once during her rages. Eventually, after tireless effort from her keepers, Jenny was introduced to and had finally accepted another African elephant companion.

The keepers feel Jenny has been making progress, and I believe them. No one works harder and cares more for the animal than the underpaid and undervalued zookeepers. For the last few years, Jenny seemed a bit more content with her new elephant friend. Unfortunately, that animal recently died. I cannot imagine what this latest loss has done to Jenny. To make a sad story worse, the zoo administrators have made a horrifying choice for her. A choice I doubt her keepers can advocate, although I'm betting they would never say so publicly if they value their jobs. Jenny is being sent to Africam in Mexico, a drive-thru safari park. This new zoo has no African Elephants and their staff has only experienced working with Asians, which by nature are much more docile. Even the most seasoned veteran keepers are risking life and limb every time they come in contact with Jenny in a rage. Why would anyone send her off to a place with no experience caring for animals of her nature?

If that's not enough to convince you, remember that Jenny has often gone into rages when loud noises are in the vicinity, and she has broken through steel cables with her head. Yet, the Dallas Zoo is sending her to a drive-thru park where she will be exposed daily to cars. I understand there will be nothing holding her back from the unsuspecting visitors but a mote and some hot wire. I have witnessed elephants who learned to ground hot wire against their tusks in order to keep from being shocked so they could reach a branch of browse on the other side. Hot wire will not stop Jenny in a rage. Yet the Dallas Zoo refuses to even consider sending Jenny to The Elephant Sanctuary right here in Tennessee. She could live in a place where she will be off exhibit on hundreds of acres with a quiet, calm environment and numerous other African elephants. At the very least, the Dallas Zoo could keep Jenny and find her another companion animal. Apparently, they would rather send her to another country without even the benefit of animal rights laws to protect her. Jenny deserves better, and the Dallas Zoo should be ashamed!

13 comments:

Lynne said...

Jenny is staying in Dallas after all. For an update, go to http://publicbroadcasting.net/kera/newsmain?action-article&ARTICLE_ID=1345697&sectionID=1.

tjart said...

Yeah, though I wonder how much more this poor creature can take. It is sad that this probably isn't an isolated story for elephants and other wild beings since in the end it is a business. I hope that compassion and good sense rules out more often than not, but I know that may not be the case. Great story and glad the ending just got better.

queenmab04 said...

Hey Amanda. Great article. Hope the blog goes well. Cheers.

Kristin

Zoo Left said...

Lynne,
Thanks for letting me know she is staying. This is fabulous news and something even I had not heard yet. I know the Dallas Zoo would like better for her, but I will never agree that Mexico is the answer. Unfortunately, your link did not tranfer, but I will check it out.

Margaret said...

The Elephant Sanctuary (TES) is clearly the right home for Jenny. TES is uniquely suited to care for Jenny, as its sole focus is the rehabilitation of elephants like Jenny. This natural-habitat refuge provides 300 acres for its resident African elephants and is world recognized for its expertise and experience healing troubled and ailing elephants.

By contrast, the Zoo announced that it canceled its plan to ship Jenny to a "drive-thru" tourist attraction in Mexico minutes before a noted animal attorney was to expose to the press the Zoo's abdication of responsibility in its contract with Africam for Jenny's safety and even life in Mexico. Now, the Zoo says it will keep her at the Dallas Zoo, where we know that she is miserable in her cramped, barren enclosure. She has been in solitary confinement for three months and just last week, Jenny was seen to be obsessively swaying, a sign of distress and stress in elephants. View that video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AusZYAAzhW4

The Zoo's announcement seems to be just one more ill-conceived ploy to deflect the public outcry and wide-spread criticism of its mishandling of what to do with Jenny. The Zoo has vacillated about what to do about Jenny a number of times and appears to have NO concrete plan or clear vision for addressing Jenny's needs.

Elephants in AZA zoos live an average of 33-34 years. Jenny is 32. The natural lifespan of an elephant in the wild is 70-80 years. Jenny should retire to TES where she has a good chance at living a long and happy life.

We need to give this to Jenny before it is too late.

Thanks for your blog entry on the story with Jenny and Moja.
Margaret

Margaret said...

The Elephant Sanctuary (TES) is the right home for Jenny. TES is uniquely suited to care for Jenny, as its sole focus is the rehabilitation of elephants like Jenny. This natural-habitat refuge provides 300 acres for its resident African elephants and is world recognized for its expertise and experience healing troubled and ailing elephants.

The Zoo announced that it canceled its plan to ship Jenny to a "drive-thru" tourist attraction in Mexico only minutes before a noted animal attorney was to expose to the press the Zoo's abdication of responsibility in its contract with Africam for Jenny's safety and even life in Mexico. Now, it says it will keep her at the Dallas Zoo, where we know that she is miserable in her cramped, barren enclosure. She has been in solitary confinement for three months and just last week, Jenny was seen to be obsessively swaying, a sign of distress and stress in elephants. View that video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AusZYAAzhW4

The Zoo's announcement seems to be just one more ill-conceived ploy to deflect the public outcry and wide-spread criticism of the Dallas Zoo's mishandling of what to do with Jenny. The Zoo has vacillated about what to do about Jenny a number of times and appears to have NO concrete plan or clear vision for addressing Jenny's needs.

Elephants in AZA zoos live an average of 33-34 years. Jenny is 32. The natural lifespan of an elephant is 70 years. Jenny should retire to TES where she has a good chance at living a long and happy life.

We need to give this to her before it is too late.

Thanks for your blog entry on the story with Jenny and Moja. It was heart-wrenching to read but important for us to know. I appreciate that your first blog entry was about Jenny.
Margaret

nancy underwood said...

I do not think that the announcement that Jenny will be staying in Dallas is necessarily a good ending - everyone reading this should join in the fight to have Jenny sent to Tennessee!

Barbara said...

Thank you for the background information about Jenny. What a heartbreaking story.

The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is still the best place for Jenny. How can the Dallas Zoo possibly rebuild the exhibit without the machinery triggering her rage and depression again? And they plan to move in a strange elephant just before beginning construction, with no time for an introduction period. I can't see how any of this can possibly be in her best interest.

Amanda, how can we help Jenny and convince the Dallas Zoo administration to do the right thing for her? The Elephant Sanctuary has the peaceful environment and the expertise to help her heal.

benandleeann said...

thank you so much for your extra information regarding Jenny. The point where she lost her friend and companion, where she had tears running down her face, struck me hardest. I have been actively posting flyers and attending rallies for Jenny with my rescue group in DFW. Thanks again for your information,

Lee Ann / Fort Worth
benandleeann.blogspot.com

Zoo Left said...

I agree that Jenny would be best served by a sactuary! My first priority was to keep her from going to Mexico, and I have to say that the staff who care for her at Dallas know her and are doing thier best by her, I'm sure. Unfortunately, they are hindered by the politicians who are the zoo administration. We now have to convince them to work with sanctuaries rather than viewing them and all animal rights people as their enemies. How can we get both sides to come together for the good of the animals? Well, there needs to be a willingness on both ends to beleive that all parties want what is best, and each side has to give and take. Please keep this in mind regardless of what side of the fence you sit on this issue!

Marie said...

Amanda,
Thank you for bringing Jenny's plight to the forefront. Thanks to people like you and Margaret Morin, Jenny has a chance. I posted her story on my blog http://granislestudio.com. Keep up the great work!

Linda said...

Amanda,
Thanks for the article on Jenny. You mention pictures of Jenny
Would you consider sharing that and any others of her you have?
I will send my email address so you can contact me directly if you respond and let me know how to reach you. I tried to call you at the two business you mention but no success they weren't listed.
Linda

Terry said...

"How can we get both sides to come together for the good of the animals? Well, there needs to be a willingness on both ends to beleive that all parties want what is best, and each side has to give and take. Please keep this in mind regardless of what side of the fence you sit on this issue!"

Unfortunately the two primary animal rights organizations in our nation PETA and H$U$ INSIST repeatedly that their ultimate goal is the elimination of all domestic animals owned by humans. This is a fact which is well documented.

They wish to confer human rights on our animals and to remove them from our lives and homes only to be viewed at a distance. They reject purebred animals as "manmade" and refer to domestic animal breeding practices as rape. They refer to chicken eggs in words that don't even bear repeating. They use horror tactics in their contacts with children (blood on comic books regarding KFC) and ask the children to tell their parents they are murderers because they serve meat!

Just look at the kill rate at the only "shelter" operated by PETA. Some 90% +, one of the highest in the nation.

When animal rights supporters stop insisting on the elimination of domestic animals including that dog or cat sitting on your lap or at your feet animal welfare supporters will never, ever support animal REAL rights and certainly not the vegan no holds barred hatred of all domestic animals.