The Elephant Debate
David Jones, Zoo Director, and Guy Lichty, a Zoo animal curator responsible for the elephants and rhinos, speak for the project and the Zoo in the WRAL segment. Former Zoo elephant/rhino supervisor John Freeze speaks against. He is most compelling when he talks about elephants standing in their "own feces and urine".
The current elephant/rhino barn and exhibit were built over 25 years ago, when the Zoo handled African elephants in an entirely different way than is the case today. New facilities are being created to better work with the newer approach utilized for many years at the NC Zoo.
Elephants do go "in for the night" in the current arrangement, in the ways horses and cows often do. They too will urinate and defecate. (The elephant diet and digestive system creates a rather "clean" feces compared to most.)
This is far from the main point, however.
The NC Zoo's new facilities are designed to exceed American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) recommendations. They will give these very social animals more opportunities to be with other elephants all day and night, they will give them a "community room", as well as cow and bull "stalls".
The elephants will not stand in one small area all evening. They will have voluntary access to outside exercise yards and the outdoor exhibit, 24/7.
My NC Zoo Society colleagues and I believe John Freeze is a good person with a real concern and valued opinion. We think he feels as he does because he has had a chance to interact with the elephants. We want others to feel the same way and to learn other valuable lessons about species and our world. We believe the Zoo can teach those lessons, by reaching the "heads and hearts" of visitors, as John Freeze has been reached.
We believe we will reach visitors hearts (and heads) by offering interaction with healthy, well-adjusted animals (along with some good educational programming). We are proud to be doubling the size of our elephants' exhibit area when it is already the envy of most zoos and offering behind-the-scenes facilities and husbandry practices that exceed the newest AZA standards.
A past NC Zoo animal curator has also become similarly visible and vocal in other U.S. communities where they are planning new elephant exhibits (always smaller than ours', but he has been in touch with me in an effort to try to get me "on side" to offer even greater space to the expected, larger NC Zoo elephant herd). We might expect to hear from him as well.
The animal rights world has trained much focus on elephants at present. It is good to know that it too realizes that something needs to be done for the 150 African and 150 Asian elephants in North America. Many zoos are stopping the practice of exhibiting solo elephants. Others will not exhibit two or three breeding age elephants, but will send them to larger facilities for better socialization (and for the gene pool).
The NC Zoo and Society are working hard to serve those purposes, as defined in the AZA's Species Survival Plan for the African elephant.