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Just Say "No" to Urban Elephants

By Andrew Peerless in Miscellaneous on Aug 26, 2005 2:27PM

We live in the midwest - the big, flat boring midwest. Yet, somehow, amid the corn and the corn and the distinct lack of exotic foliage, we still have our fair share of wild animals sightings around these parts: Monkeys have invaded Elgin. Coyotes are terrorizing Glencoe's pet population. Fish have their own piece of Michigan Avenue real estate. But, according to a Joyce Poole, a top research scientist at a Kenyan national park, this city is just no place for elephants.

2005_8_urbanelephant.jpgThe debate about holding elephants in captivity has been raging in recent months, following the rapid deaths of the Lincoln Park Zoo's three elephants and ultimate deterioration of its elephant program. We knew things were getting serious when the Golden Girls got involved, but now PeTA (yeah, they bug us, too) has kicked things up a notch by sponsoring Poole's involvement. She met with City Council members yesterday, using 30+ years of elephant research to make her case that captive environments simply cannot provide elephants with the space, stimulation or interaction they require, and pointing to problems from foot infection to ineffective child-rearing that can result.

Space seems to be the primary issue: wild elephants can roam up to 10 miles per day, normally standing on ground that is substantially softer than the concrete or rubber they encounter in zoos, and intermingle constantly with close-knit groups of family members. Furthermore, they poop up to 17 times per day and must keep moving to keep their feet clean... yes, 17 times per day. Chicagoist can think of nothing we do 17 times per day, let alone... that. What a tremendous amount of excrement.

Anyway, Poole and her cronies want the city to adopt a mandatory space minimum of 5 indoor acres and 5 outdoor acres for all captive elephants, which would cleary be an issue for urban zoos like Lincoln Park. Zoo officials acknowledge the problems, but don't seem to be taking too much stake in Poole's suggestions and think her calculations may not apply to captive elephants unused to life in the wild (riiiiiight... which is why they're all, um, doing so well). Furthermore, they fear that caving on the elephant issue will only lead to more requirements for more types of animals, until zoos are rendered obsolete. This kind of reminds Chicagoist of the people that claimed reversing the Texas Sodomy Law would lead to rampant beastiality, but we digress..

The city's not really doing much at this point. Alderman Mary Ann Smith (48th), committee chairwoman, says the issue won't likely be brought up to City Council for a few months, as "we don't deal with elephant issues on a day-to-day basis in our neighborhoods." This is true, probably due to that damn midwestern thing again...

Urban elephant image courtesy of