Dondi the Elephant Dies in Massachusetts Zoo

An animal rights group has requested access to the medical records of an Asian elephant who died last week at a Massachusetts zoo. Dondi the elephant died at 36 years of age, considered in the prime of her life. Asian elephants can live up to 70 years.

Information about Dondi’s death will not be available for up to two months, and although there is no information yet that would indicate wrongdoing on the part of the zoo, there is reason to believe that her confinement in the zoo may have had something to do with her early death at around half of her life expectancy.

Animal rights groups have consistently criticized the confinement of elephants in zoos. For this reason, among others, many zoos have closed or scaled back their elephant exhibits in recent years. Elephants, by virtue of their size, stand out as a glaring example of why animals should never be caged or confined.

While many try to justify the existence of zoos by virtue of a few conservation efforts, the fact remains that zoos exist as entertainment for humans — and no animal should ever be confined for the sake of entertaining another.

Elephants are extremely intelligent, beautiful, and social animals and so they engender a lot of empathy from humans. Because of this, and the obvious demands of housing an animal of its size, the elephant is the poster animal for activists fighting against the use of animals for entertainment, both in zoos and circuses.

Employees of the zoo and Dondi’s owner, Phil Schacht, insist that she was well-cared for, and replied indignantly to accusations that the zoo’s accommodations were not adequate. Responding to criticism that Dondi shouldn’t have been kept alone because elephants are social animals, Schacht insisted that Dondi “had no interest in other elephants”. While I didn’t know Dondi personally, I find it hard to believe that any elephant would have no interest in other elephants. They are inherently social animals, being alone isn’t natural for them.

No matter what questions are asked or what criticisms are leveled, those who have a vested interest — especially a professional interest — in animal entertainment, will always try to assure the public that the animals are well-cared for. But the truth is that no animal would willingly live in a zoo, to be confined when everything about their natural life compels them to want to roam free in open spaces.

No matter how badly some people want you to believe that they can speak for animals and tell you what animals like and don’t like, want and don’t want, they just can’t. One sure bet: that a large animal that’s been bred for thousands of years to roam free in open spaces can never be content confined in a zoo. That’s simple biology, no psychic powers required.

Elephants like Dondi and Baby Louie are at the forefront of people’s awareness about the conditions of animals in zoos and circuses. Hopefully the empathy and love they engender will eventually begin to change people’s minds about the role of all animals in entertainment. Animals were no more made for our entertainment than they were for our consumption. Boycott zoos and circuses.

Photo: dumbonyc


Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W.3 years ago

very sad

Sandra Hetherington

@Jeff I agree that we humans are making it very difficult for wild critters to stay wild. I just don't think that the answer is to put animals in captivity..I'd rather die than be locked heart would break. We need to keep trying to change the world. If we don't then all is lost anyway..and I for one won't even consider that option! Peace to you Brother :)

Jeff C.
Jeff Chapman4 years ago

*As long as they are not in captivity* Oops

Jeff C.
Jeff Chapman4 years ago

@Sandra. Oh, you want them to be "free"! So they can be killed by poachers or possibly starve, suffer and die from a wide variety of diseases anyway. As long as they are in captivity who cares, right? Not to mention the fact that we have pretty much taken their land from them and are consistently using up and abusing their wild resources with no remorse. Unfortunately I don't think they have the ability to be free in this modern world for a variety of reasons, all of which revolve around humans. There are good and bad in all (captive) situations, including zoo's. Interestingly, some of the best cared for animals in captivity I've seen don't belong to zoo's or sanctuaries.

Sandra Hetherington

@Jeff C I don't think you have to be an expert on ellies to understand that they need to be FREE to do what it is that ellies do. She passed away long before her time. Many ellies in captivity resort to turning violent..Dondi did not. That doesn't mean she was happy... just means she was more tolerant than others. Anyone with an ounce of horse sense knows captive animals can't live up to their potential. I'd be very interested to know what her cause of death was. Bet that will tell all!

Jeff C.
Jeff Chapman4 years ago

I really don't understand where all of these comments are coming from. All of a sudden everyone is an expert in elephant needs, wants and desires? What are your qualifications to assess what an elephant "needs"? When did keeping an animal confined become "abuse"? Elephants are going to "suffer emotional consequences from the repression of not being able to roam for miles"?
Why do you think these animals have a need to roam for miles? Certainly it's not just to look at the pretty scenery like humans do. Animals DO NOT waste time or energy. There must be a reason like the search for shelter, water, food, etc. But what if all that stuff is provided to them? If you think any animal is going to walk around just because they can, the existence of all animals is certainly doomed.
If we don't take the time to educate ourselves before we make opinions, all animals will be completely extinct from the wild and captivity. These stricter laws are not helping the cause of animals, it is setting them up for a very short future. Then everyone will be wondering what happened and why the animals are gone. Certainly the animal rights people will find someone else to blame rather than themselves.

Richard S.
Richard S.4 years ago

Indeed elelphnats require huge space to live a normal lifespan. That is why San Diego is a superb location for large animal care. The San Diego Wild Animal Park, also run by the Zoological Society like is the Zoo, is a large sanctuary for these animals. My main complaint remains with the water supply that is treated with drugs through no fault of the Park by the city of Escondido, CA and since Jan 2011 by the city of San Diego. Horse race fatalities for example rose precipitously in L.A. after fluoridation of the entire LA basin began 2007. Here in San Diego we have already 7 race horse fatalities from heart attack and broken bones and the racing season has only just begun. Fluoride incorporates into atherosclerotic plaque, crosses the blood brain barrier and permanently accumulates in bone. Zoo and Park animals have no rights to refrain from consuming industrial fluoride compounds. Most Zoos cannot handle space requirements for elephants, but this is not the issue in San Diego. Both cities though are treated with hazardous waste industrial fluorides, a more significant problem.

Elaine A.
Elaine Al Meqdad4 years ago

Anytime you keep a wild animal ,in captivity they know they are not in their natural habitat and is quite common and even guaranteed that the animal is going to suffer the emotional consequences of this repression. Especially Elephants that need to be able to roam for miles, which zoo's can not accommodate. So yes, it is the responsibility of the zoo as this animal was due a much longer life.

Richard S.
Richard S.4 years ago

Indeed the elephants at the San Diego Zoo are attended to as well as possible by the expert caretakers here. The only problem I see with Zoos in large U.S. cities though is that most water districts infuse industrial fluorosilciic acid with caustic soda into drinking water by coercion from the misinformed dental industry. Any elephants involvedin shows wehre excercise levels are elevated and at the same time drink mass quantites of aluminumjfluroideinjectedinto the water are at riskfor neurologic impairment that can belethal. Two show elephants consuming aluminum fluoride treated water for 7 years finally perished in San Diego last year. Neitehr veterinary nor dental schools are not trained in the toxicology of synthetic industrial fluoride compounds now used to treat humans through water supplies. Animals were never intended to be so treated and yet are. The S.D. Zoo carefully re-did the entire water system for the very chemical-sensitive gharial alligator species recently and will use purified water mixed with 10% sea water that protects against fluoride assimilation, but it is not possible to use purified water for the massive elephants.The FDA accepted a petition for review calling for a ban on fluorosilicic acid infusions into public water supplies, being a substance used as a drug without FDA approval. Animals will graetly benefit if this petition is honored.

Lorna Y.
Lorna Y.4 years ago

Elephants do not belong in zoos. They are large, social animals that need to roam together with others of their species over acres of land daily. Being confined in a small enclosure of 3-5 acres is hardly adequate. I understand the need for people to see wild animals they would not otherwise see; but to abuse a wild animal by keeping it confined is not allowing people to view them in their natural habitat.