Law students push for elephant haven

By Nicole Santa Cruz
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, January 19, 2006

Group wants animals moved to Tennessee sanctuary

A group of UA law students and City Park officials are caught in the crossfire over the fate of two elephants at the Reid Park Zoo.

Save Tucson Elephants, a group of 40 UA students and community members, wants to send elephants Connie and Shaba to a sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn.

The animal sanctuary would allow the elephants, who currently live on less than a half-acre of land, to roam free on hundreds of acres of natural habitat, said Nikia Fico, director of Save Tucson Elephants, which started in November 2005.

Reid Park Zoo, which is owned by the City of Tucson Parks and Recreation, has other plans for the animals.

The zoo wants to move the elephants from their half-acre home to a seven-acre piece of land. The $8 million plan would also provide other amenities for the zoo, said Susan Basford, a Tucson Parks and Recreation Department administrator.

"We have no intention of sending these animals to a sanctuary," Basford said. "I don't know why we would. I think a sanctuary is appropriate for old, sick, needy elephants."

Captivity and small living spaces in zoos create physical and emotional problems for the elephants, such as arthritis or stereotypical swaying, which is a direct result of captivity-induced stress, said Fico, a second-year law student.

The elephant sanctuary is 2,700 acres and could alleviate possible medical and health problems that zoo elephants are prone to, Fico said.

Basford said the animals have had minor health problems over the years, but they are cared for by professional zookeepers and see a veterinarian whenever it's necessary.

"Our elephants are healthier now than they have been for many years," Basford said.

City of Tucson officials have approved the plan, but have yet to approve funding, which could possibly be a combination of private and public funds, Basford said.

Fico was inspired to start t he group after learning about other successful campaigns where elephants were moved to sanctuaries, she said.

Fico said Carol Buckley, founder of the elephant sanctuary, has agreed to absorb the cost of transporting the elephants, but the zoo has to act fast.

"At some point, the elephant sanctuary will be at capacity and they will not be able to afford to take elephants for free," Fico said.

It isn't likely the Reid Park Zoo will change its stance on sending the elephants to the sanctuary.

"We try to create an intimate experience for our guests and to encourage them to care about exotic animals and places and to develop a conservation ethic; that's really what we're here to do," Basford said. "Seeing elephants is a big part of that."