Animal Rights Group Calls for Probe into Elephant Death

The debate continues over whether elephants should be kept in public zoos after another one dies.

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

After the death of an African elephant at the San Diego Zoo on Thursday, an animal's rights group is calling for an investigation into the incident as the debate over whether elephants should be kept at zoos grows.

The animal rights organization, In Defense of Animals (IDA), called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to investigate the circumstances surrounding  the death of 21-year-old Umoya, a female elephant who was found lying down with injuries at the zoo on Wednesday morning and later passed away.

Umoya was a mother of two who was brought to the zoo in 2003 from Swaziland, according to the zoo's Christina Simmons.

Umoya had servere injuries and was unable to stand, according to zoo officials. She died before veterinarians could get to her, they added.

The official cause of death has yet to be released and veterinary staff planned to conduct a post-mortem examination, however those results might not be known for weeks, Simmons said.

Umoya's injuries led zoo staff to believe there was an “aggressive interaction” with another elephant, according to their blog.

IDA's complaint points to a similar conclusion, stating that an adult male elephant, Mabhulane, who is known to throw his weight around, was confined with the females and their offspring.

"This elephant's shocking death is another tragic example of how elephants suffer in inadequate and artificial zoo exhibits," IDA Elephant Campaign Director Catherine Doyle said. "There is nothing natural about the San Diego Zoo Safari Park's elephant exhibit or keeping 18 elephants crammed into a space of less than six acres when their natural home ranges can measure
hundreds of square miles."

IDA also asked the USDA to investigate why no staff or security personnel were aware of Umoya's fatal injury until trainers arrived in the morning.

After the death, other elephants in the zoo were given time to mourn Umoya's passing, which elephants in the wild are known to do, according to Zoo officials.

Umoya's death has again raised questions about the safety of these large mammals in captivity.

“Its a shocking example that elephants suffer and die prematurely in zoos due to lack of space and conditions,” Doyle said. “Elephants have nowhere to go.”

There has been much controversy buzzing around the safety of keeping elephants in zoo habitats, and while some say that it's too risky, others mantain that elephants are an important part of zoo culture.

"I'm saddened to hear of the death of any animal, and an elephant is a great animal," said Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge, a major supporter of an elephant exhibit in L.A. 

LaBonge went on to say that the death does not change his support for elephant exhibits.

"They remain important educational institutions in the effort to protect and conserve the elephant species," LaBonge said. "They allow people like you and me to experience these magnificent mammals."

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Copyright CNS - City News Service
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