Fallout Continues After the Pittsburgh Zoo Bolts from the AZA

When the Pittsburgh Zoo decided it couldn't comply with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) plan to limit the amount of time the keepers spend with the elephants, it did the only thing it could: drop out of the AZA. Now the battle is unfolding as the AZA fights back. The Pittsburgh Zoo lost a $5000 grant for a playground and won't be able to participate in some of the sea turtle programs.

But the Zoo director, Barbara Baker, feels that it's worth dropping out. The Zoo has invested heavily in developing a program for social interaction between the keepers and the elephants. The keepers "dominate" the animals with threats of physical punishment. This is an old technique used throughout the world for thousands of years, but it does backfire. If the elephants grow upset, they can kill their keepers. The AZA plan is to isolate the elephants from the keepers-- a plan that will seem safer but will diminish the social interaction. 

“We tried to work with the AZA for over a year, but we believe strongly that zoo directors must have final decisionmaking power for the animals under their care, and are best equipped to make decisions about those animals,” Dr. Baker told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I care about the AZA accreditation but I care more about my animals and staff.”

For more information, read Don Hopey's piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 

(Photo of Angelina, a new elephant born at the zoo, with the trainer from Ken Sutton.)