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Animal rights group calls for change in zoo policy

Caroline Nasella and Sarah Holmsen of the animal rights group In Defense of Animals prepare for a vigil at the San Francisco Zoo in memory of both Carlos Sousa and Tatiana, and to call for change in zoo policy.
Photos by John Han

By John Han

January 4, 2008

Animal rights advocates said Thursday that they plan on asking the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to hold hearings to determine whether there should be policy changes at the San Francisco Zoo.

Fred Rabidoux, a minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church in San Francisco, said during a vigil at the zoo, that large animals should not be kept in zoos.

"Why are we subjecting these animals to such unnatural conditions?" asked Rabidoux. "The right thing to do is to respect the right of each animal to live its life in surroundings that nature put it in. Being captive and held in a confined space is not sufficient to reverse its wild character."

Elliot Katz, founder and president of the animal rights group In Defense of Animals (IDA), said that the zoo has a history of, "letting people provoke the animals," by taunting them repeatedly in "public feeding spectacles."

"They tell people to come into the lion house and see them feed the tigers, and see them growl and get all excited," Katz said.

The vigil was held in memory of both Tatiana and Carlos Sousa, who was mauled to death by the tiger after it had escaped from its grotto. Tatiana was shot and killed when police arrived on scene.

Katz says the zoo should stop public feedings.

"To me, that contributed to the exacerbation of the anger that Tatiana had against people, being taunted like that literally everyday," said Katz. He says zoos must adopt the mindset of a "haven", or "sanctuary" that places the quality of life of its' animals above public entertainment and exploitation.

Fred Rabidoux

Elliot Katz

Katz says wildlife experts plan to visit the zoo and give their assessment to the Board of Supervisors.

According to IDA, the recent killing incident is only the most extreme tragedy in a long list of problems at the zoo due to poor management. They list incidents starting in 1997.

That year the City allowed the zoo to be privatized, turning management over to the San Francisco Zoological Society, a private non-profit organization.

In 2004, the zoo neglected an elephant crisis that saw the death of three elephants within a year due to inhumane conditions, conditions that included enclosures of less than a quarter acre of land for the elephants to live in, and forced elephants to stand on hard, compacted surfaces, leaving them with inadequate exercise, joint degeneration and foot problems.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution in 2004 urging the Zoological Society to relocate three surviving elephants to an animal sanctuary. In the end, only one elephant survived. The other two elephants died.

Since then two African antelopes have been killed by another antelope, two black swans have died of shock, a dozen penguins died from disease, and a hippopotamus died a day after being moved to a temporary exhibit.

And in 1997 a $48 million bond measure was passed to improve conditions for animals at the zoo. IDA claims the Zoological Society used the money for "people amenities" such as a café and a gift shop.

Richard Schulke, former president for the Animal Control and Welfare Commission of San Francisco, says the zoo has lost experienced workers since the Zoological Society took over management ten years ago.

"The Zoological Society really has to concentrate on making money in order to continue," Schulke said. "A lot of the money originally went into the infrastructure of the zoo to make it nicer for people, and not for the animals. I still worry that it's more concerned about making money than they are about anything else."

Schulke says profit-driven motives have resulted in zoo workers having less experience.

Richard Schulke and Elliot Katz





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