Questions are being raised by former elephant trainers and handlers about whether the San Diego Zoo “euthanized” two adult elephants prematurely last week – before they were needed to be put to death. Two Asian elephants were put to death last week because they were “ailing and aged” we’re told.
On top of that, we are raising a question of why the story about the elephants being killed was ignored by U-T San Diego and had to be broken by the LA Times. Perhaps, it was too messy and ugly a story to run for the U-T’s new owner, Papa Doug Manchester, and his image of a bright, shiny and wonderful San Diego that he wants projected by his daily fishwrap.
On Friday, January 6th, the LA Times ran a front page article by Tony Perry on their local section about our Zoo euthanizing two ailing elephants. The Times reported that Cha Cha, about 43 years old, and Cookie, about 56, were both “ailing and aged” and were “suffering and their chances for recovery were virtually nil” declared an un-named Zoo official.
SignOnSanDiego – the online version of the U-T, did run a hurried-placed article about the deaths later that day, but only after the Times did their story. (SignOnSanDiego has been changed to U-T SanDiego.)
Yet Lisa Landers, a former San Diego Zoo elephant keeper, wrote the LA Times complaining that the deaths were premature, in a letter published today (1/11/12). Landers wrote:
Cha Cha and Cookie may been ailing but they were not elderly, not by elephant standards. Elephants mature and age the same as humans. No one would consider calling a 43-or 56-year old elderly. Some wild elephants live well into their 70s.
Premature deaths in captivity are not only tragic, they are also reminders of why we should not keep such complicated animals in captivity. The physical, mental and emotional needs of elephants far exceed our ability to humanely keep them in zoos.
Many enlightened zoos have made the decision not to keep or exhibit elephants for this reason. After all the elephant deaths and controversies through the years, why can’t the San Diego Zoo follow suit?
At least one other former Zoo elephant trainer we know is also very upset about the premature killings.
Here is the LA Times article by Tony Perry, from Jan. 6:
Two ailing and aged elephants at the San Diego Zoo had to be euthanized this week, zoo officials announced Friday.
The two Asian elephants were suffering and their chances for recovery were virtually nil, officials said.
Cha Cha, estimated to be 43 years old, was euthanized Wednesday. To allow other elephants to see her a final time, her lifeless body was lifted on a forklift and taken to where other elephants in the Elephant Odyssey exhibit are kept.
Cookie, estimated to be 56, was euthanized Friday morning. There was no connection between the decline of Cookie and Cha Cha, officials said.
Both elephants for decades were at the zoo’s Wild Animal Park — now called the Safari Park — before being moved to the zoo in 2009. Before such performances were halted, both were stars in the elephant shows at the Wild Animal Park.
Cha Cha, the smallest elephant at Elephant Odyssey, was often seen in the company of Ranchipur, the 12,000-pound dominant male.
Elephant keepers performed an emergency procedure on Cha Cha on Christmas Day after noting that she was having trouble eating and drinking. A large mass of food blocking her esophagus was removed. But within two days, she began to rapidly decline.
Cookie had been in distress for months with a variety of geriatric problems and had begun to drag her back legs. She was given large doses of pain medication but zoo specialists concluded that her condition was irreversible.
Elephant Odyssey, one of the more popular exhibits at the zoo, was closed temporarily but was reopened Friday. But elephant keeper interactions with the public have been cancelled to provide time for them to mourn, officials said.
Cha Cha arrived at the Wild Animal Park in 1971, Cookie in 1981. Their deaths come just weeks after Umoya, 21, an African elephant at the Safari Park, was killed in an attack by another elephant.
The zoo now has five elephants at Elephant Odyssey and 17 at the Safari Park. The zoo elephants are older than the elephants at the Safari Park and need more attention from the zoo’s elephant care center, officials said.
And here is the original article from SignOnSanDiego (an article we can no longer find BTW):
SAN DIEGO — San Diego Zoo officials say two of their Asian elephants were euthanized this week for health problems that could not be reversed.
Forty-three-year-old Cha Cha was euthanized Wednesday and 67-year-old Cookie was put down Friday.
Zoo officials say Cha Cha received around-the-clock intensive care after surgery to remove an obstruction in her esophagus on Christmas Day. Cookie had been under veterinary care for some time for age-related problems.
Zoo officials told the Los Angeles Times ( http://lat.ms/xM9YT5 ) the elephants used to be in shows at the zoo’s Wild Animal Park, now Safari Park, before they were moved to the zoo’s Elephant Odyssey exhibit in 2009.
The zoo now has five elephants at Elephant Odyssey and 17 at Safari Park. Older elephants stay at the zoo, closer to the Elephant Care Center.
The U-T did run a follow-up article the next day, Jan. 7th, by Kristina Davis, but no mention of doubts, questions, or premature issues.
And we’re still wondering if Papa Doug wants to keep his presentation of a squeaky-clean city so much that he is willing to let the messier and uglier stories slide by. If so, that means more work for us – and we’re not paid.