Connie, a 45-year-old African elephant, has been living at Tucson’s Reid Park Zoo with 36-year-old Shaba, an Asian elephant, for the past 29 years.
Both of them were taken from the wild as babies. Shaba was 2 years old when she was placed with Connie. Elephants have very close family bonds, and, far from their original families and homes, the two have basically known only each other.
So there was no small outrage expressed, not only by animal protection organizations, but also by the Tucson public who have come to know Connie and Shaba, when the zoo announced that Connie was moving to the San Diego Zoo while Shaba stayed behind.
Zoo officials have backed down, and both elephants will now be moving together. Vivian VanPeenen, “curator of education” at the Tucson zoo, explained it this way:
“We understand the message of keeping the two girls together resonated with our community. While we’re not doing this in response to animal rights activists, we understand there is concern. Since this plan meets all our goals, it’s an acceptable alternative.”
Marc Bekoff finds her comment contemptible:
I find Vivian VanPeenen’s dismissive comments about “animal rights activists” to be ludicrous. First off, most of the people who were concerned about Shaba and Connie were not “animal rights activists” and one doesn’t have to believe in animal rights to care about the plans to separate them. People were simply paying attention to who elephants are and were concerned about their well-being and the self-serving interests of the zoos involved.
Some people think that once the two elephants have been moved, and the public attention has moved on, they will be separated anyway. The San Diego Tribune says:
Tucson zookeepers believe that their two elephants will eventually gravitate to their own species.
“Elephants are incredibly intelligent and capable of forming bonds but it’s important to not underestimate their ability to form new bonds,” said VanPeenen. “What a wonderful opportunity for them to have this experience in their own lifetime, to interact with animals of their own species.”
Bottom line: Neither of these elephants should ever have been stolen from their homes and families in the wild. They will certainly be a bit better off in San Diego than in Tucson, where the conditions are simply awful. The San Diego Zoo is building a new multi-million-dollar elephant exhibit – a bit better for Connie and Shaba, but not remotely as good as had both zoos done the right thing and retired them to a sanctuary.