African elephants Kallie and Bette, both taken as babies from their families in the wild, were shipped from their quarter-acre exhibit at the Philadelphia Zoo to a breeding-holding facility outside Pittsburgh in July of 2009, where they were confined in a cement barn or pens consisting of a few acres - conditions that cause arthritis and deadly foot infections, the number one cause of death of captive elephants. Last winter the elephants spent two months straight in stalls in the cement barn due to the weather. Zoo officials announced in February 2010 that Kallie and Bette have been determined to be too unhealthy to be bred. A true sanctuary in California offered to give Kallie and Bette (and Petal, who died of captivity-induced conditions in June 2008) a forever home at no charge over three years ago.
Kallie and Bette lived at the breeding-holding facility until November 2011, when the zoo allowed long-time friends Kallie and Bette to be separated to make room for three new breeding-age females recently imported from Botswana. Although zoo officials had previously described Kallie and Bette as "very bonded to each other" (Kim Lengel, general curator for Philadelphia Zoo), the zoo claimed in its press release announcing the separation that "neither staff at Philadelphia nor staff at Pittsburgh have observed a close or highly positive relationship.” Kallie was sent on “long term loan” to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo while Bette remains at the Pittsburgh facility.
At the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo, Kallie originally shared an exhibit space of less than two acres with five other elephants, but the oldest elephant, 45-year-old Jo, died in July 2012 after collapsing in the cement barn and failing to get up. Kallie is reportedly getting along well with the three female elephants Moshe, Shenga and Martina. The bull elephant Willie is occasionally allowed to visit the females. We wish we lived closer so that we could monitor Kallie, but at least she is on public view. Not so for Bette....
Bette's condition is unknown because despite repeated requests, officials from the Philadelphia Zoo ("owner" of Bette) and the Pittsburgh Zoo (owner of the facility where Bette is warehoused) refuse to provide any photos, video, or even updated information about her. In fact, the Philadelphia Zoo hasn’t provided any public information about Kallie or Bette in over three years other than a November 2011 press release announcing Kellie’s transfer to the Cleveland Zoo.
Despite their reliance on taxpayer dollars to function, these zoos have ignored repeated questions from the public regarding the status of Kallie and Bette, the two African elephants relocated last year from the Philly Zoo to the Pittsburgh Zoo's breeding-holding facility in Somerset County, PA. The zoos also have ignored over 10,000 citizens who support moving them to the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary in California that offered to take them, along with elephant Petal who has since died, over three years ago at no charge. And a simple request to review medical records of the elephants - something that other publicly-owned zoos are required to provide under applicable laws - has been repeatedly declined.
Instead, the zoos operate without any accountability to the public or to the animals in their care. After a public outcry against the zoos life-threatening plans to breed Kallie and Bette, both 28 years old, zoo officials announced in February 2010 that the two elephants have been determined to be too unhealthy to be bred. While the zoos' belated decision to cancel breeding plans is good news for Kallie and Bette, their future remains uncertain and they continue to be subjected to unhealthy, stressful conditions at the breeding-holding facility.
The Pittsburgh Zoo is notorious for its use of a weapon used to control elephants - often referred to as a bullhook or ankus. In 2002, the Pittsburgh Zoo's elephant keeper for more than six years, Mike Gatti, was pinned to the ground and crushed to death by an elephant named Moja. It is well known that elephants have a propensity to attack the specific people who dominate them through the fear-and-violence based technique used by the Pittsburgh Zoo.
Local governments are looking at banning the usage of the bullhook - which the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) notes is a "negative stimuli." Earlier this year, county commissioners in St. Lucie County in Florida passed a regulation banning bullhooks as a condition to build an elephant breeding and holding facility much like the one operated by the Pittsburgh Zoo in Somerset County, PA.
Now that the zoos have finally acknowledged what advocates have stated for over four years - that breeding Kallie and Bette would jeopardize their well-being - it is time for the zoos to do the right thing and release them from the zoo display industry to a true sanctuary, where they can live out their lives as elephants.