Seeking sanctuary

A 20-year-old circus animal named La Petite has a big problem.

elephant 88.298 (photo credit: )
elephant 88.298
(photo credit: )
Elephants can't vote, but whether they like it or not they are still involved in politics. La Petite, a 20-year-old Asian elephant, has been living in solitary confinement in the Ramat Gan Safari Park since July. The animal, who has the unfortunate history of being an abused circus animal, was shunned from her Israeli herd four years after she left her previous home in England. Elephants depend on contact with other elephants to stay healthy. An animal rights organization in Israel is threatening to demonstrate against the Safari if La Petite isn't moved to an appropriate home immediately. Even though an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee has been pleading with the Safari to let the sanctuary take her in, the Safari has declined the offer, which included footing the bill of transporting the elephant. In October, the Safari reported that they were working on paperwork and building a crate to send La Petite to a zoo in France. The Israel Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Tel Aviv (ISPCA), a retired director of the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, and the sanctuary in Tennessee agree that the Safari won't let La Petite go to a sanctuary due to of politics. "It's big politics. Shelters [and sanctuaries] want to close the zoos and introduce programs that will eventually return animals to the wild," says Gadi Vitner, the ISPCA-Tel Aviv spokesman. "In a shelter, animals have their own private lives. In a zoo they do not. A zoo wants to produce animals. They want to make money. All the zoos will say they have excellent breeding programs, but it's bunk," he says. As an animal rights activist, Vitner says the public should avoid visiting zoos and circuses that keep animals for the sole purpose of entertaining people. Safari spokeswoman Sagit Horowitz says they are against sending La Petite to a shelter because she should be bred and live among male elephants. The shelter in Tennessee is female-only. She confirmed that although many European zoos have declined the offer to take La Petite, an arrangement is being made between the Safari and a zoo in Paris. Yet the elephant continues to reside in Israel, since paperwork is taking time. Vitner says that if given the go-ahead by the Safari, La Petite could be in Tennessee within two weeks. "Time is running out," says retired Zoologist Avinoam Lourie, who once headed Israel's wild animals sector for the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority. He has been following the story of La Petite and was surprised to hear that she was still in Israel. "The elephant is a social animal," Lourie told Metro. "To isolate her will cause her to suffer quite a lot. She is probably experiencing severe mental stress right now. As far as I understand, there are political issues connected to the zoo organizations. I think only international pressure to push the Safari into making a quick decision will help. She should not be left here alone in the cold winter." In Israel, only the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority can push the process, explains Lourie. Until that decision is made, ISPCA's Vitner believes that La Petite will continue to suffer immeasurably, which could add to the elephant's psychological problems. In the past, La Petite has been violent - she killed her own calf and is suspected of killing her keeper while at a zoo in England. Carol Buckley, who heads the shelter in Tennessee, wrote to Metro: "We are very interested in accepting La Petite. She would do so well here at the sanctuary. Zoos in the US and abroad are being criticized for the manner in which they keep elephants. Their response is to deny that they are doing an inferior job providing for elephants; instead, they make bogus claims about why it is better for the elephant to remain in a zoo. Sadly, the elephants are the ones that suffer." Most of all, Buckley is concerned about infections that La Petite could contract if she continues to live in confinement. Three out of four captive elephants, she explained, die of a bone infection, osteomyilitis - a preventable disease caused when elephants stand on hard surfaces and live in small spaces. The ISPCA-Tel Aviv believes that after 20 years of a miserable life in captivity, the best solution for La Petite is the elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. Horowitz from the Safari told Vitner last week that she is aware of the suffering being caused by keeping La Petite isolated. She said the Safari hopes to have La Petite in France by the end of the month, and that the elephant is being trained to enter and feel comfortable in the shipment box. A similar report was given in October, but La Petite is still waiting to pack her trunk for the big move.