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December 7, 2012 at 6:00 AM

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Poor livelihoods for zoo elephants

Confront ethics of animal captivity
The revelations in Michael Berens’ articles are long overdue [“Glamour beasts: The dark side of elephant captivity,” Dec. 2 and Dec. 3]. Having worked in the zoo and aquarium industry for over 30 years, I know keepers care deeply for their animals and work to keep them well and content and staff educators strive every day to educate about wildlife conservation.

However, the bottom line for zoos and aquariums, like any business, is revenue.

Charismatic animals like elephants and whales bear the burden of generating revenue and attendance. Woodland Park has let that concern override its obligation to respect and safeguard the animals they keep.

The assault of 112 unsuccessful artificial insemination attempts on the elephant Chai exemplifies what that can mean for the animal. The suffering of animals that clearly do not thrive in captivity is not justified by increased revenues or even conservation programs such as those pursued by Woodland Park Zoo. Zoos and aquariums play a strong role in conserving wildlife.

That role depends on strong public or private support which, in turn, depends on enlightened leadership that squarely confronts the moral and ethical issues surrounding animal captivity. I hope Woodland Park Zoo and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums are thoughtfully discussing swift release of their elephants into sanctuaries and never again holding any in captivity.

—Kathleen Sider, Vashon

Biased toward elephants
Putting it mildly, The Times’ report on elephants in zoos points out many troubling aspects of keeping elephants and other animals in close confinement. However, I am dismayed by an absence of criticism of the journalistic quality of that report, especially the uncritical acceptance by Danny Westneat [“Elephant ‘extremists’ vindicated,” NWWednesday, Dec. 5].

The language of The Times's series — for example, "”zoo industry”— belies a bias incompatible with professional journalism. One might suspect that the language is taken directly from that of PETA-affiliated animal lovers.

Moreover, there is a total lack of reference to sources in the article series. What is the basis for statements such as a mortality rate of elephant babies in zoos three times that in the wild? Do we know what those mortality rates are in the wild? Don't they vary greatly from one place to another? What factor is poaching in these rates?

—Hartmut Peters, Seattle

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