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Elephant Exhibit May Expand at Brookfield

By Hanna Aronovich in Miscellaneous on Dec 20, 2006 4:46PM

logo.gifIt was less than two years ago that the Lincoln Park Zoo went elephant-free after the deaths of several of its elephants. Detroit Zoo no longer has an elephant exhibit either. Seems it might be growing more difficult to visit elephants in the Midwest.

However, Brookfield Zoo has plans to expand its elephant exhibit five times over, the Tribune reported earlier this week. The zoo intends to build a state-of-the-art indoor house and bring in four more elephants, for a total of six. Zoo Director Stuart Strahl told the Tribune the multimillion-dollar improvements would be part of a master plan to modernize the entire zoo. The plans are in the early stages, and about seven years from implementation.

Elephants in zoos — let alone zoos in cold-weather climates like Chicago — is still a heated debate. PETA has been pushing for an elephant-protection ordinance in Chicago, which would require each kept elephant have access to five indoor acres of space and five outdoor acres.

Elephantwithflowers.jpgThe American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s more moderate standards of care, updated in 2003, require each elephant to have a minimum of 400 square feet of indoor space and 1,800 square feet of outdoor space.

The zoo’s current elephant enclosure for two elephants is a quarter-acre outside. The new space would be more than an acre — still significantly less than the elephant-protection ordinance guidelines. However, the size of the proposed exhibit would put Brookfield in the top 10 percent of North American zoos.

Dr. Elliot Katz, veterinarian and founder of In Defense of Animals, also maintains each elephant should have five acres of space for a decent quality of life in captivity. “For one acre to have six elephants or whatever is just totally inadequate and likely very abusive and will cause great suffering and pain to the elephants once their feet and joints start degenerating," Katz told the Tribune.

Strahl said zoos provide Americans in urban areas the opportunity to learn about the global environment. “We really need to connect people with wildlife by having wildlife present," he explained.

We think that’s a nice sentiment, and many zoos have wonderful conservation initiatives. However, when several animals die in a short span of time, and suffer along the way, perhaps those efforts are misguided.

On the plus side, Mary Jo Peters of St. Charles told the Tribune she and her children enjoy the elephants. “We'd come to see them, that's for sure," she said. “Elephants are always the first things we come to see.”

Well, as long as the kids are happy.