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Animal rights group ranks Buffalo Zoo among "Ten Worst" for elephant facility

WBFO file photo

The organization In Defense Of Animals, based in California, has released its annual list of "ten worst" zoos for elephants. The Buffalo Zoo is ranked among them.

The Buffalo Zoo has been ranked by IDOA in previous years, this time placing sixth among the "worst ten." Dr. Toni Frohoff, an elephant scientist with IDOA, says the climate and the space are both unsuitable for the pachyderms living there.

"These are elephants who have evolved for millions of years from a tropical habitat," Frohoff said. "Even in the best of situations, which this certainly is not, they have to spend an inordinate amount of time indoors in cramped, cold confinement."

Frohoff told WBFO her organization gathers information to prepare its list by visiting the centers, as well as collecting videos from students and documents from the government. The organization's website reports video collected for its report shows the elephants swaying in a way that suggests stress. 

"These elephants are suffering," Frohoff said. "They could be in a sanctuary. The Detroit Zoo and other cold weather zoos have shut down their elephant exhibits and sent their elephants to warm-weather sanctuaries."

Frohoff identified zoos in Alaska, Vancouver and Toronto as having done the same. 

Cold-weather markets were not the only entries on the list. The Honolulu Zoo in Hawaii ranked third on the "ten worst" list. 

Buffalo Zoo officials released a written statement in response to the ranking, defending its animal training practices and noting that an expansion it carried out ten years ago brings the elephant facility in line with Association of Zoos and Aquariums standards.

The statement reads: "The Buffalo Zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Our elephant team has a wealth of education and experience, and provides our animals with the best possible management.

"In 2007, the Buffalo Zoo’s elephant barn underwent a $1 million renovation to double the indoor holding area and update the facility to meet the current standards for elephant husbandry set by the AZA.

"In Defense of Animals, by its own definition – a network of determined activists is not recognized as an authority on animal husbandry. Its recent list of the worst zoos for elephants, based solely on the opinions of its authors, contains multiple false statements regarding Buffalo’s elephant program, such as the implication that the Buffalo Zoo restricts exterior access. In fact, both elephants are provided access to the exterior yard, together.

"The Buffalo Zoo uses only “protected contact” and positive reinforcement training methods in working with our elephants. These practices dictate that the animals act only of their own free will, and are not forced to perform any behaviors.

"'The elephant keepers are incredibly dedicated to making sure their animals are happy and healthy year ‘round,' said Zoo president, Donna M. Fernandes. 'They spend hours a day with Jothi and Surapa, cleaning and feeding them, and managing a schedule of enrichment activities. To imply that our elephants receive anything less than the best possible care would be a disservice to some of the most hard-working people in the industry.'

"The exhibition of elephants at zoos in New York State, including Buffalo, was instrumental in gaining support for legislation to ban the sale of ivory in New York State. In August of 2014, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed a law banning the sale of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horns. This will curb the poaching of elephants, which is responsible for the death of 96 elephants each day in Africa. Zoos are leading the charge in the protection of these highly endangered species.

"The Buffalo Zoo encourages anyone who is interested in the welfare of elephants to support those organizations who are working to protect elephants in the wild from poachers."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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