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.