Isn't It Time the Saint Louis Zoo Rethinks Its Position on Elephants?


This morning's Post-Dispatch has a rather alarming story buried back on page D3. Another of the Saint Louis Zoo's elephants has been diagnosed with a potentially deadly strain of herpes.

According to the daily, the two-year-old Asian elephant Maliha is currently showing no symptoms of the virus that kills 20 percent of pachyderms born in North American zoos. The same cannot be said for Maliha's half-sister, Jade. Last week the 23-month-old elephant was diagnosed with herpes after appearing lethargic and sick. The animal has since undergone a blood transfusion.

Other elephants in the zoo have befallen worse tragedies in recent years. The herd's matriach, Clara, died in 2007 from debilitating arthritis -- a condition common to elephant's kept in captivity. Meanwhile, the elephant Sri has been living with a dead calf stuck inside its uterus since 2005.

Unlike other animals, elephants just don't do well in zoos. They're too big for the acre or two of space afforded them. In the wild, these animals are accustomed to roaming as much as 30 miles a day.

Animal-rights groups have campaigned in recent years to alert the public to the plight of these elephants and urge zoos to release the animals to sanctuaries. The St. Louis Zoo -- so far -- has turned a deaf ear to these growing concerns. (Just last year In Defense of Animals named the Saint Louis Zoo in its all-time list of  Worst Zoos for Elephants.)

Perhaps now then it's time that we -- the residents of St. Louis -- also make our concerns known. The St. Louis Zoo is a tax-supported institution that ultimately must answer to its constituents.

Would anyone out there really think any less of the zoo if it did away with its elephant exhibit? I doubt it. Imagine, though, the good publicity the organization could earn if it became one of the first zoos in the nation to do what's right: Send its elephants to greener pastures.  

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