SALT LAKE CITY — Hogle Zoo has rejected the dubious title of being the eighth-worst zoo for elephants in North America, a designation recently bestowed upon the zoo by In Defense of Animals (IDA), an international protection organization.
This is the first time the organization has included the Utah zoo on that list.
The IDA says Hogle Zoo has kept African elephants Christie and her 10-year-old calf Zuri in an exhibit all by themselves since 2015 when their companion Dari died.
“The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) requires and is supposed to enforce, social groupings of a minimum of three compatible elephants together. The Hogle Zoo is yet another tragic example of the AZA’s failure to enforce its own low standards,” according to a statement made by IDA.
Additionally, the calf Zuri has never had another calf to play with, nor a group of related females to help nurture her and teach her about what it means to be an elephant, the animal-protection group claims.
Hogle Zoo responds
Erica Hansen, spokeswoman for Hogle Zoo, said In Defense of Animals never reached out to the zoo to ask about the elephants in the exhibit.
“I would have given them a tour,” Hansen said. “I would have taken them behind the scenes. I would’ve introduced them to our keepers.”
“They drop a bomb, brush their hands off and walk away,” she said. “I don’t even know if they’ve been to our zoo. They never make their presence known.”
Hansen said Hogle Zoo is accredited by the AZA and is aware of the standard of a minimum of three compatible elephants together.
“We’re working on getting an elephant, but you just can’t go to a pet store and get an elephant,” Hansen said, adding that the zoo is working on finding “the right match for our girls.”
Another difficulty in making the correct elephant match is that elephants are pregnant for two years, she said.
Zoos can only choose from the elephants that are available and are of the right age to be weaned from their mothers, so it can take years to find the right pachyderm, Hansen added.
Hogle started with a famous elephant
Hansen pointed out Hogle Zoo is in existence because of elephants.
In 1916, it purchased “Princess Alice,” a 31- or 32-year-old Asian elephant named after Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice. Penny and nickel donations from area schoolchildren raised $3,250 for Princess Alice’s purchase from a traveling circus.
The Hogle Zoo elephants, mother Christie and daughter Zuri, are adored by the community, but also by their keepers and zoo staff, Hansen said.
“I can promise you they [the zoo elephants] are in great hands and they get great care,” she said.
Hansen said Hogle Zoo’s elephants draw attention to the global poaching crisis: 35,000 African elephants were killed for their ivory last year – that’s 96 a day.
A portion of every zoo admission ticket goes to protect wild animals.
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