Elephant Death Causes Concern for Mammals in Zoos

The debate continues over whether elephants should be kept in public zoos after another one dies.

By Reanna Delgadillo
|  Friday, Nov 18, 2011  |  Updated 6:12 PM PDT
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San Diego Zoo Safari Park

Elephants were given time to mourn the death of Umoya, according to San Diego Zoo staff.

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The death of an African elephant at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park has again raised questions about the safety of these large mammals in captivity.

Umoya, a 21-year-old female elephant, was found lying down with injuries at the Zoo Thursday morning and later passed away.

The animal's injuries led staff to believe there was an “aggressive interaction” with another elephant, according to their blog.

“The more elephants they bring in, the greater the risk of aggression,” said Catherine Doyle, the elephant campaign director of the advocacy group In Defense of Animals.

Umoya’s death is cause for concern, he said.

“Its a shocking example that elephants suffer and die prematurely in zoos due to lack of space and conditions,” Doyle said. “Elephants have nowhere to go.”

Zoos cannot provide the space elephants need to escape the aggression of other elephants, she said.

There has been much controversy buzzing around the safety of keeping elephants in zoo habitats, and Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge released a statement in response to Umoya’s death.

"I'm saddened to hear of the death of any animal, and an elephant is a great animal," LaBonge said. “I join with the staff of San Diego's Safari Park in mourning the loss of this great creature.”

LaBonge, a major supporter of the Los Angeles Zoo elephant exhibit, said the death does not change his support for elephant exhibits.

"They remain important educational institutions in the effort to protect and conserve the elephant species, and they allow people like you and me to experience these magnificent mammals," LaBonge said.

“Elephants of Asia," the African elephant exhibit at the L.A. Zoo, inspired much debate during its construction, and concerns included adequate space for the huge mammals.

After years of city-ordered delays, protests from animal welfare groups and support and opposition from city officials, L.A.’s exhibit opened Dec. 17, 2010.

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