Image by Herrick
Thong Dee is an Asian elephant at Sydney’s Taronga zoo. The exotic animal is nine years old, still a juvenile in elephant terms. So while the zoo celebrates, animal rights groups are up in arms.
Erica Martin, Asia-Pacific Director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare, said: “It is completely irresponsible.” She described the zoo permitting the young elephant to conceive as “the equivalent of allowing your 12-year-old daughter to become pregnant.” Martin said that 11 is the minimum age at which captive elephants should begin to breed.
Despite the negative publicity from animal rights organizations, the zoo is ecstatic over the elephant’s pregnancy. Taronga Zoo director Guy Cooper said: “The zoo is proud to announce this historic event.” The birth will be the first by a captive elephant in Australia.
Thong Dee was one of eight Asian elephants sent from Thailand to the zoo in 2006. She’s been surrounded by controversy from the beginning, as animal rights groups protested against the animals being kept in captivity. Thong Dee and her fellow imports joined the zoo’s captive breeding program for the endangered species.
Zoo officials defended their decision to allow the young animal to become pregnant. Cooper said: “The well-being of all animals in our care is of paramount importance and our breeding programs are carefully managed to exacting standards that ensure our specialist staff employ the latest advice and scientific research.” Thong Dee and several other elephants were examined by German breeding experts and pronounced fit to breed last year. The youngest Asian elephant to successfully conceive in a zoo was five and a half years old.
RSPCA experts fired back, saying that Thong Dee and the baby animal faced health risks from pregnancy at that age. Bidda Jones, chief scientist with the Australian RSPCA, said: “We know that calves born in zoos have double the mortality rate in the wild, and this pregnancy will put both mother and calf at great risk. Still birth, infanticide and rejection of calves are the main causes of infant mortality and Thong Dee’s age and lack of maternal and social experience make this pregnancy very risky”
Info from Reuters