Origin of the American library, home to the oldest theater in America, and birthplace of the original U.S. Mint, the City of Brotherly Love is known not only for its boisterous, cheese steak-loving, crazy sports fans, but also for its status as a trailblazer in enriching institutions – including the nation’s first zoo.
The Philadelphia Zoo opened in 1874 with a mission of “conservation, science, education and recreation,” and for the last 132 years, has been home to hundreds of animals ranging from primates to amphibians.
Since the zoo opened its gates, one of the leading attractions for both locals and tourists has been the elephant exhibit, which has most recently featured four of the enormous ungulates: three African elephants named Petal, Kallie and Bette and one Asian elephant named Dulary.
Sadly, this will not be the case for much longer.
On Oct. 5, the zoo announced that the elephant exhibit would be shut down permanently and that the animals
would be moved. Petal, Kallie and Bette will be transferred to The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, while Dulary will relocate to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.
This decision came following nearly a decade of protest from activist groups such as the Friends of Philly Zoo Elephants, In Defense of Animals and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Protesters from these organizations maintain that the Philadelphia Zoo does not have nearly enough space for the elephants to roam and that the climate and vegetation conditions in this area create physical and mental problems for the elephants.
Philadelphia is not alone in this loss. In recent years, eight U.S. zoos have eliminated or are planning to eliminate
their elephant exhibits – San Francisco, Chicago and Detroit have done so in the last year. And as is the case in Philadelphia, funding is the primary issue.
Beginning several years ago, the Philadelphia Zoo began a widely publicized fundraising campaign to support four large projects, including “a new elephant savanna that would provide a naturalistic habitat for our elephants and a dynamic new learning experience for guests,” according to the zoo’s Web site.
While this campaign was successful in raising $20 million to create Big Cat Falls, the latest addition to the zoo, rising construction costs and fundraising difficulties prevented the zoo from earning enough money to support such a large project so soon. Also new to the Philadelphia Zoo are a refurbished bird house now known as the McNeil Avian Center and the updated Hamilton Family Children’s Zoo.
While monetary concerns are pivotal in this situation, it is ultimately the health and welfare of the animals that is the issue.
Elephants are the world’s largest land mammals, measuring an average of 7.8 feet and 6,600 pounds. The current elephant yard in Philadelphia measures a quarter acre with a 1,800-square foot barn – approximately the size of six standard parking spaces.
While these facilities meet the current standards set forth by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, they do not come close to matching a natural habitat, where elephants in the wild roam about 30 to 50 miles per day. Without this space, the animals are prone to contracting many debilitating diseases, including colic, premature reproductive failure and foot and joint ailments.
Along with preserving physical health, exercise and activity are also crucial to maintaining an elephant’s psychological
health. This fact came to a head in Philadelphia two summers ago.
In August 2005, Dulary, the lone Asian elephant in Philadelphia, was gored near her eye after an altercation with Bette, one of the African elephants. Dulary nearly lost his eye. After surgery to repair the injury, Dulary was reduced to solitary confinement for months, thus limiting the time he could spend roaming in the yard, further promoting psychological instabilities.
Combining both the physical and mental consequences of keeping the elephants in Philadelphia with the severe lack of funding, the move is absolutely necessary. All four elephants should be in their new homes by next spring.
Although Philadelphians should be saddened by this loss to our city’s zoo, we should realize that it is one that will ultimately serve these magnificent animals well.
Erica Palan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.