Seneca Park Zoo responds to ‘worst’ list ranking

Read the original article by Marcia Greenwood at here.

A California-based animal rights group alleges that Seneca Park Zoo is among the nation’s worst for elephants. 

On Tuesday, In Defense of Animals published its 2018 list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants and put Seneca Park Zoo at No. 9, stating that the St. Paul Street facility falsely portrays its middle-aged elephants as “seniors” to deflect from the fact that their captive conditions (including “small, unnatural” enclosures) cause lameness, joint disease, arthritis and early death. 

Seneca Park Zoo’s four elephants — Genny C., 41, Lilac, 40, and Moki and Chana, both 36 — “would be in the prime of their lives” in the wild, “reproducing and raising their young, and acting as vital, strong members of their families and herds,” Fleur Dawes of In Defense of Animals, said in a statement.

Additionally, Dawes noted that half of the elephants in U.S. zoos die by age 23, “only about a third of their expected life span of 65 to 70 years, despite the provision of veterinary treatment, food and water.”

However, Dr. Louis DiVincenti, Seneca Park Zoo’s assistant director of animal health care and conservation, says the group is “intentionally misusing terminology to prop up their false premise.”

“Life span is very different from life expectancy,” he said via email. “For example, the life span of a human being may be up to 120 years, but that is certainly not the norm, and the age most of us can expect to reach is much shorter. Similarly, elephants may have a maximum life span of up to 65 or 70 years, but the median life expectancy of African elephants is about 38 years, meaning that half of elephants will die before age 38 and half will die after. This clearly puts our four elephants in the senior category … That our elephants have reached this milestone speaks to the high quality of care they receive.”

DiVincenti said referring to the Seneca Park Zoo elephants as geriatric “only means that we have a heightened awareness of and are on the lookout for chronic, age-related changes that occur in all aging animals … from arthritis to cancer.”

He added that none of the Seneca Park Zoo elephants have crippling conditions, and none “display stereotypical or abnormal behaviors that may occur in animals with a history of sub-optimal welfare.”

Part of the elephant habitat at Seneca Park Zoo.

Part of the elephant habitat at Seneca Park Zoo. (Photo: Tina MacIntyre-Yee/@tyee23/staff)

In Defense of Animals’ 10 Worst Zoos for Animals list is in its 15th year. The goal, the group says, is to reveal “outdated, failing and cruel practices that are harming and killing elephants in U.S. zoos” and ultimately persuade zoos to stop exhibiting elephants.

However, in an earlier statement, DiVincenti said: “We are losing elephants at the rate of 96 a day in Africa. Every year, Seneca Park Zoo inspires hundreds of thousands of people to care about and take action for the survival of African elephants.

“Seneca Park Zoo is a world-class program of elephant care … Every decision we make — from the food the elephants eat, to the enrichment they receive, and the veterinary care provided — is driven by the best animal welfare for the elephants.”

This is the first time Seneca Park Zoo has been included on the In Defense of Animals list. The Buffalo Zoo made the list five times. It shut down its elephant exhibit last year, saying it wasn’t able to care for its two aging elephants, according to a report by WGRZ-TV. At the time, Jothi was 36 and Surapa was 35. The animals were relocated to the larger Audubon Zoo in New Orleans.

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