Billy is on his way to the Denver Zoo from Europe in hopes that he’ll father a new baby to put on display there.
Yesterday we wrote about how elephants at zoos routinely suffer from serious ailments like heart disease, obesity, arthritis and infertility. They’re now dying faster than replacements can be born, and there’s talk of zoo elephants needing to be classified as “endangered”.
Elephants, of course, are among the prime attractions at zoos. So it’s no surprise that zoos are racing to keep their populations from dwindling – and that rather than address the cause of the problem, they’re shipping more elephants from one zoo to another as part of an emergency breeding program.
Latest case in point, then, is Billy, who was born in Ireland, then shipped to Belgium (where he’s known as Bodi), and is now being prepared for the 5,000-mile flight from Brussels to Denver.
According to the Denver Post:
Billy … will bring new blood and genes to the zoo as it continues its quest to become a leading house of bulls and key player globally in Asian elephant breeding and conservation.
Except that as we already know, zoos aren’t leading the way in conserving elephants globally. They can’t even conserve their own elephants.
Billy will be living at the zoo’s $50-million Toyota Elephant Passage, a 10-acre exhibit that he’ll share with 49-year-old Dolly, 43-year-old Groucho, who was shipped there from Fort Worth, Texas, and 9-year-old Bodhi, from the Columbus, Ohio, zoo.
The Denver Post quotes the zoo’s VP of animal care as saying:
“We’ve heard he’s a very charismatic boy. Our guests will love him..”
And this from assistant curator Becca McCloskey:
“It’s been a long time in the making. He’s brand-new genetic material … He’s going to be fun to watch.”
The zoo has a highly questionable history with elephants. On his blog, Marc Bekoff writes of his experience several years ago:
In spring 2001, Asian elephants were regularly moved in and out of the Denver Zoo as if they were couches being moved from room to room. Rocky Mountain Animal Defense and I got involved because of the lack of concern of the Denver Zoo and the AZA.
Dolly, a 32-year-old female, was removed from her friends, Mimi and Candy, and sent to Missouri on her “honeymoon,” as the zoo called it, to breed. A few months later, Hope, a mature female, and Amigo, a 2½-year-old male (who had been taken from his mother), were sent to the Denver Zoo, where they lived next door to Mimi and Candy.
In the following months, Mimi got increasingly agitated. In June 2001, Mimi pushed Candy over, she couldn’t get up, and had to be euthanized (the zoo didn’t have a proper elephant hoist). Two days after Candy died, and a day after she was autopsied within smelling distance of the other elephants, Hope got angry, escaped from her keepers and rampaged through the zoo. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured. Hope was then transferred out of the zoo, and a new elephant, Rosie, was brought in.
… Playing “musical chairs” with animals who have no choice is serious business and can have dire consequences.