19 February 2009

Tusk marks and footprints

My first experience with elephants was in a small compound at a local zoo when I was about five or six. In this setting I was able to ride the elephant in a brief circle for a couple of dollars. Since that time, I have grown to have a profound respect for the animal and have reached the conclusion that I would never allow myself, or a member of my family, to ride on an elephant. This may seem like splitting hairs since, in the long and storied history of the elephant, certain species have been used as pack animals. Yet, in my view of the world, using an elephant for a purpose such as transportation through a dense jungle is as far from giving preschoolers a ride around a circle day-in and day-out as going 200 mph on the interstate in your car is from closed course NASCAR racecar drivers.At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, African Elephants can come so close to your safari vehicle that you could smell the earth on their skin. While they are in their natural environment, these creatures are free to wander about their spacious savannah home. In addition to their habitat, Disney’s Animal Programs have been instrumental in research and raising awareness about elephants, their gifts, their dilemmas, and their lifestyles. From communication among the females, to the four African Elephants born at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and even their work in the field of population growth and control of the elephants in North America and Africa, Disney’s Animal Programs have worked tirelessly for the cares and causes of these creatures.The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the organization through which Disney’s Animal Kingdom is accredited, maintains a Standard for Elephant Management and Care. Detailed in this fourteen page document is everything from minimum space requirements, group requirements, diet, to staff training. Under the Safety section, the AZA makes the following distinction, “In the interest of safety, AZA strongly encourages members to discontinue public elephant rides.” Going one step further, a 2008 St. Petersburg Times article, in response to elephant rides, stated, “The AZA strongly discourages elephant rides for safety reasons and because they detract from the dignity of the animal.”At Disney’s Animal Kingdom, guests can experience as close to a living safari as one will receive outside of a true African veldt. The majesty of the animals found within the borders of Kilimanjaro Safaris is preserved because of Disney’s commitment to the animals it serves. A commitment that brings new life into the world and new life into the causes of the animals, like the African Elephant.

1 comment:

M.Sedlar said...

Great post! Disney's Animal Kingdom is a great park, and its message of conservation is something I strongly believe in.

It's unfortunate that much older zoos, like D.C.'s National Zoo and the Los Angeles Zoo, are struggling to advance projects that would increase the size of their elephant habitats. The National Zoo's Elephant House, which was built in the 1930s, is absolutely depressing.

BTW: I was originally going to go with a picture of an elephant from Animal Kingdom for my Asian and African elephants post, but I couldn't find a decent shot. Great minds think alike, indeed.