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December 9, 2012 at 8:00 AM

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Zoo's failing elephant conservation efforts raises concerns

Commitment to elephant conservation
The International Elephant Foundation, consisting of some of the leading elephant facilities internationally, is dedicated to the conservation of elephants.

On behalf of our members and supporters and, most important, the elephants that are benefiting from IEF’s programs, we object to the gross misrepresentations and numerous inaccuracies found in the recent articles regarding elephant care and management in the United States [“Glamour beasts: The dark side of captivity,” page one, Dec. 2, Dec. 3].

Does the North American population of elephants face real challenges to remain sustainable? You bet they do. Are we and institutions like the Woodland Park Zoo doing everything we can to save these valued and critically endangered species? Yes we are. Why? Because we believe in the value of conservation, research and education through public display. Capturing the public's imagination and inspiring a desire to participate in conservation is key to the very survival of many species, including elephants.

So despite everything that has recently been written about elephants in U.S. zoos, know this: IEF and its members are committed to supporting efforts to maintain a strong, thriving and robust elephant population here and to applying our knowledge and expertise to ensure that these majestic and awe-inspiring animals continue to exist in the wild for generations to come.

—Deborah Olson, executive director of the International Elephant Foundation, Azle, Texas

Leaders responsible to protect animal welfare
Thank you much for your investigative series “Glamour beasts: The dark side of captivity.” It is horrific that these animals have suffered and continue to suffer in such a despicable industry of zookeeping (and circuses too).

The Seattle City Council should immediately address this issue and make the only logical and ethical choice for these animals — to send them to retirement at a sanctuary. In the meantime, the conditions at the Woodland Park Zoo must change. It is disgusting and disturbing that our leaders of Seattle and King County have not already chosen to acknowledge that captive zoo life is an atrocity for an elephant and an unending, failed breeding program is constant abuse.

Conditions at the Woodland Park Zoo must improve immediately. If we can't trust our leaders to make straightforward, ethical decisions about the welfare of animals, I believe their ethics in dealing with human matters should be just as suspect.

—Christie Lagally, Seattle

False conclusions
I believe Michael Berens’ series of articles on elephants were based on mistaken assumptions that led to false conclusions.

The first is that captive breeding programs are unnecessary because endangered animals thrive in the wild. Due to habitat destruction, poaching and other actions by humans, the wild populations of endangered species are rapidly shrinking. Human intervention, including captive breeding, is required to prevent the extinction of endangered animals.

The second assumption is that wild animals do not thrive in captivity, especially in circuses. Martha Kiley-Worthington of the University of Edinburgh conducted the only scientific study of circus animals. After 18 months of extensive study, she concluded that circus animals are healthy, only rarely display any signs of fear or distress and there is a high degree of “mutual respect, trust and affection between the animals and their trainers or handlers.”

Because they love their animals, Have Trunk Will Travel is raising funds and working with veterinarians to find a cure for the elephantine herpes virus. Have Trunk Will Travel and zoos should be commended for their work in preserving endangered species and improving their care.

—Bruce Johnson, Lynnwood

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