Performing Animal Welfare Society’s biennial Elephant Summit at the end of March 2012 brought together at the Oakland Zoo elephant lovers and leaders from all over the world. There were presentations both exciting and painful to see from cutting edge researchers and conservationists, in the field; from elephant activists and advocates working to improve the lot of captive elephants; government agents, lawyers, veterinarians, trainers and elephant welfare specialists, filmmakers, sanctuary starters and keepers, zookeepers, writers, photographers, and people who love and are involved with elephants in every imaginable way.
There were presenters and participants from Kenya, India, Sri Lanka, The Netherlands, Brussels, U.K., Norway, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, as well as all over the USA.
It was a thrilling and exhausting three days of learning and interacting with like-minded people at the Zoo education center, followed by an optional trip to the PAWS Sanctuary in San Andreas on the fourth and very rainy day. Delicious vegetarian and vegan lunches were served, many prepared by Tanya Petrovna of the popular Native Foods restaurant chain. A tour of the zoo’s elephant barns and exhibit by the Elephant Curator Colleen Kinzley, and a lovely welcoming reception delighted the participants.
Joel Parrott, DVM, Executive Director of the Oakland Zoo and probably one of the most progressive Zoo director in the country, and Pat Derby and Ed Stewart, Founders of The Performing Animal Welfare Society opened the conference. Stewart was the Emcee for much of it, and a very humorous one he was, cracking jokes in between what were often grim facts that we were absorbing, sometimes with horrific video footage to boot.
Everyone at the Summit was in agreement about the wonder and majesty of elephants, and about the raw deal they are receiving around the globe at the hands of humans.
The first day focused mainly on the advocacy campaigns in the US and abroad that are very active and often very effective, although there is no end in sight to the need. The highlight of the community activism in the US today centers on the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act (TEAPA), or HR 3359 which is making its way through Congress. This bill, sponsored by Animal Defenders International, the PAWS Sanctuary and Bob Barker, with the help of actress Jorja Fox, seeks to outlaw the mistreatment of wild animals in circuses, particularly when they are chained, caged and made to travel in small enclosures around the country to perform. Elephants are often chained up for 11 hours a day, when their wild behavior dictates they roam and forage for at least 16 hours and walk at least 6 miles a day.
ADI, brainchild of Jan Creamer, President and Founder, and her partner Tim Phillips have conducted undercover investigations and spearheaded cruelty prosecutions and legal cases in the UK, Europe and South America. These have led, so far to the halving of the number of animals in UK circuses in just 6 months, and an active role securing the recent bans on animal circuses in Peru, Bolivia, Portugal and Greece. Jan’s motto is “We just keep going…we don’t go away.” Bolivia now has the most progressive law on animal circuses in the world. In California you can legally chain an elephant for 19 hours a day.
Kartick Satyanarayan and Geeta Seshamani, Founders of Wildlife SOS India discussed captive elephant issues in India. In India, elephants work and are utilized for making money. They have been used in battles, temples, processions, circuses, begging, zoos, timber logging. There are 3,500 of them on overpopulated city streets, so for most people they and their welfare are ignored. The Mahouts who take care of the elephants are not trained and mostly treat them in crude and inhumane methods as beating and chaining, administering drugs to the elephants in the mouth. Some recent laws have outlawed much of the cruelty but there is little enforcement, and no where for the abused elephants to go.
Kartick and Geeta, who have done much to shut down the dancing bear industry in India and have created one small sanctuary for elephants, are looking to open several more to hold the 140 of them now waiting to be sent to rescue centers. They hope to open a training center for mahouts and to eventually not have any more elephants on the streets.
Leonie Vesterling gave a report of the Dutch association against the use of wild animals in circuses. She would later announce with her partners in Elephant Haven Foundation, their intention to open an elephant sanctuary in France.
Catherine Doyle, head of elephant campaigns for In Defense of Animals (IDA) has initiated letter writing campaigns for abused elephants and reported on 37 US cities that have banned circuses so far.
Delcianna Winders, Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement at People For The Ethincal Treatment of Animals (PETA) worked on the case against Ringling Brothers’ cruelty towards elephants. Evidence was gathered of baby elephants being beaten before going on stage, being prodded electrically, hit with bullhooks and chaining. They have ben forced to work with injuries, asphyxiated by holding the trunk. Court case did not go through, although some fines have been levied.
Ed Stewart lightened up the mood by telling us he didn’t know the highlight of his life would be acting as a flight attendant for elephants. He accompanied Maggie the elephant from the Alaska zoo to PAWS sanctuary, and is looking forward to traveling with the three elephants who are set to be released from the Toronto zoo.
ADI’s campaign director Matt Rossell briefed us on the TEAPA bill and the necessity for everyone to pitch it on a grass roots level.
Attorney Martha Golar of the Bar Association of the City of New York spoke about animal law. Reports issued by her animal law committee are very influential in the media. She recommends that people contact animal law schools to find other associations to back up issues that are in the law and need to be highlighted to the USDA and other entities.
After lunch there was a surprising talk by Denise M. Sofranko DVM, Field Specialist for Elephants with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)who gave us a perspective from the federal government and all the hoops she and others in her department must go through to take action. It was great to meet someone in her position who cares so deeply about elephant welfare.
Cindy Machado is a Humane officer from the Marine Humane Society who has worked on many anti-circus campaigns in California. She gives free four hour training nationally to animal control officers. She is just a phone call away. She advises we look at local ordinance laws. They often give local authority quite a bit of authority. When the local animal control gets training materials specific to elephants before the exhibitor come to town, they can recognize specific issues like excessive thirst, how to document problems of failing to provide bet care and the 112 different weapons that are used on elephants. More officers inspecting and knowing what to look for at circuses can lead, at least to slightly better care for the animals.
Local activists told about their work: Katie Maneeley, founder of the Animal Agency, She worked with Last Chance for Animals (LCA), IDA , ADI and Best Friends to get a ban on elephant rides at the Orange County Fair. She has also worked with PETA to replace free circus tickets from Ringling for disadvantaged children, with movie tickets. With a background in advertising, Katie wants to work on animal advocacy through messaging, to get the messages out to the unaware masses of people.
Anna Ware of the Atlanta Humane Society talked about her campaigns to ban bull hooks. Ringling Brothers is a large and powerful corporation that counters any attack with an equally strong one. She recommends working with a large organization like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Linda Faso of Las Vegas has been an animal advocate for years and recommends being well informed not only on the animal issues but on your local government heads and how they stand on the issues.
Please continue to Day Two and Day Three of the Summit articles:
Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and elephant advocate.
PAWS (PERFORMING ANIMAL WELFARE SOCIETY)
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