June 24, 2008

Dallas Zoo’s Lone Elephant to Move to Mexican Wildlife Park

The Dallas Zoo will move its remaining elephant to a wildlife park in Mexico this fall.

Jenny, the 31-year-old African elephant, will move to the Africam Safari Park, a 617-acre forested wildlife park located 80-miles southeast of Mexico City, zoo officials said today.

There has been much speculation about Jenny's future since the death of her companion KeKe, 39, who died in May of congestive heart failure. Animal activists had requested Jenny be moved to a sanctuary to ensure mental and physical well-being.

"Once these animals go out of the country, it's very difficult to ensure they're going to get the care that they need," said Lisa Wathne, a national spokesperson for PETA. The group plans to protest the move.

"We are appalled that the Dallas Zoo would send Jenny out of the country to an unknown facility where she will not be protected by U.S. Animal Welfare Act law. This move is not in Jenny's best interest," said Catherine Doyle, campaign director with In Defense of Animals, based in San Rafael, Calif.

The safari park is accredited with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and goes through the same inspection process as zoos in North America, zoo officials said.

"This is not an unknown facility," said Sean Greene, the zoo's community relations director. "Our own [Mayor Pro Tem] Dr. Elba Garcia has been there before."

Ms. Doyle and Margaret Morin with the Dallas-based group Concerned Citizens for Jenny were scheduled to meet with city council members this afternoon to discuss the best decision for Jenny.

"I don't think it's a coincidence that they had this press conference today," said Ms. Morin, a Plano resident.

Mr. Greene said it's no coincidence.

"We made this decision way before PETA or IDA came to Dallas to speak," he said.

Chuck Siegel, the zoo's deputy director for animal management, said the decision to move Jenny was not prompted by protests by animal activist groups.

"We had decided that we did not want to put another elephant in our current exhibit," Mr. Siegel said. "I would never make a decision about the welfare of an animal based on those sorts of concerns."

"These organizations aren't about elephants," Mr. Greene said. "They don't want zoos period."

After reviewing many options, zoo officials decided to place Jenny at the Africam Safari Park, a place Mr. Siegel and other zoo staff have visited before.

"It's a fantastic facility," he said.

Zoo staff will be preparing Jenny for her move, helping her to become more at ease with the carrying cart that will take her to Mexico.

Jenny will share a 4.9-acre elephant exhibit with one male and two female elephants and be monitored by six staffers.

The Dallas Zoo expects to acquire a giraffe in the coming months and convert its elephant exhibit into an expanded giraffe habitat to open next spring.

"Our plan is to still have elephants," said Mr. Greene. "Elephants will be at the Dallas Zoo. How soon has yet to be determined," he said.

But Ms. Morin says the decision is bad for the city and bad for Jenny.

"The citizens of Dallas own Jenny," she said. "This should not be a unilateral decision on the part of the zoo."