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Activists Want Dallas Elephant to Join Gerry II

July 25, 2008

By Andy Hogue, Gainesville Daily Register, Texas

Jul. 24–DALLAS — A pachyderm in the public eye in Dallas could possibly be joining the elephant Gainesville never forgot — that is, if animal rights advocates have their way.

Jenny the Elephant, a resident of the Dallas Zoo, has been the subject of many news stories following the death of her partner, KeKe, in May. Animal rights groups are concerned that Jenny, age 32 (and near the elephant’s life expectancy in captivity of 33), would not be healthy in a zoo, and that she should be transferred to a wilderness preserve for elephants.

In the wild, an elephant can live up to 70 years.

According to the Dallas Morning News, zoo officials announced Jenny would be taken to a zoo near Puebla, Mexico, called Africam Safari Park. Some elephant lovers and animal rights activists would prefer Jenny, a 22-year resident of the Dallas Zoo, to be taken to the Elephant sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn., where Gerry II, a former resident of the Frank Buck Zoo in Gainesville, currently resides.

Gerry the Elephant, now 40, is an Asian elephant who was for a time Gainesville’s mascot of sorts. She was taken to the sanctuary in 2000, following some moves to other zoos and mistreatment issues at an El Paso zoo.

A fictional drawing of Gerry’s submarine periscope-like trunk poking out of the flood waters of Elm Fork in 1981 gave Gainesville brief, national notoriety, as the image appeared on T-shirts, postcards and other memorabilia boasting the slogan “I survived the flood of ’81.” Gerry clung to a tree for survival during the flood, but it is unlikely she was submerged and used her trunk to survive.

Gerry II was the replacement of the original Gerry, which performed with the famed Gainesville Community Circus and died of an unknown cause. Gerry II (originally known as “Sissy”) came to the zoo in 1969. Gainesville public school students collected $3,900 in pennies and small change to buy the then-baby elephant from Six Flags Over Texas.

Gerry II was suspected of killing zoo supervisor Lee Rhoades of Gainesville, either accidentally or in self-defense during a routine cage visit. An investigation was inconclusive, but the City Council voted to move the elephant to another zoo.

Frank Buck Zoo Director Susan Kleven said the decision to move Jenny from Dallas to Mexico was likely an informed decision. She said she has colleagues at the Dallas Zoo and trusts they arrived at an informed decision.

“With the staff at the zoo, it’s their job is to look out for the welfare of the animals,” Kleven said. “And I can tell you the zoo community is a small community, and they’re in it for the love of the animals.”

According to the Dallas Morning News, Dallas City Council member Angela Hunt took the 10-hour drive to Tennessee to see the Elephant Sanctuary. She noted that she was impressed by what she saw there, and recommended it over Africam Safari, which is a family-owned driving zoo 80 miles southeast of Mexico City.

The Elephant Sanctuary has 2,700 acres compared to Africam’s 617, according to information on their respective Web sites. The sanctuary has 14 Asians and three African elephants, compared to three Asian elephants at Africam.

The Africam Safari is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, whereas the sanctuary is accredited by the Association of Sanctuaries. Breeding is done at the Africam facility, which hosts six full-time and one on-site veterinarians, and the sanctuary has only females and has a vet on call.

Kleven said she has attended several meetings of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and said the association’s standards for its member organizations are adequate.

The downside for Jenny’s fans is that the Elephant Sanctuary is not open to the public. However, the sanctuary has a 24/7 “elecam” which occasionally gives viewers a glimpse at Gerry and company.

Dallas Zoo officials hope to turn the elephant exhibit into a giraffe habitat, though they expressed a desire to see to Jenny’s well being after her move — whether or not she’ll end up Gerry’s playmate.

On the Net:

Africam Safari: www.africamsafari.com.mx

The Elephant Sanctuary: www.elephants.com

Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at andyhoguegdr@ntin.net

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Copyright (c) 2008, Gainesville Daily Register, Texas

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