Exhibit A: The Dallas Zoo
The Dallas Zoo’s 2015 annual report, which ironically has an elephant on the cover with the title “Meaningful Impact” reveals that its total revenue was $29,852,000. Total expenses were $26,999,000. A measly $470,000, just 2 percent of expenses, actually went to “conservation funding and other.” The zoo, a so-called non-commercial entity, spent more than that on marketing—a whopping $1,187,000.
A closer look at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) most recent Annual Report on Conservation and Science reveals that the Dallas Zoo then divides that paltry two percent of expenses among 23 field conservation projects and only two of them have anything to do with elephant conservation in Africa. Neither involved reintroducing elephants in the wild.
“With the little conservation funding zoos provide, it is not going to the research being done by people like Dr. Poole and others who are interested in learning about who elephants are and their lives in their natural habitat or providing information about what we will lose if we lose elephants with respect to science and our overall understanding of animals. Nor is it going to reintroducing orphaned or injured animals into the wild in Africa,” said Harris.
The Dallas Zoo even admits also to supporting Swaziland Rhino Conservation by helping the Kingdom of Swaziland’s Big Game Parks relocate elephants to allow park managers to protect critically endangered rhinos. Dallas Zoo’s definition of conservation may mean relocating Swaziland elephants to the confines of its facility, but FoA’s isn’t.
Exhibit B: The Sedgwick County Zoo
The Sedgwick County Zoo’s 2014 Annual Report reveals that its total revenue was $11,604,194. Total expenses were $10,755,348. A skimpy $108,215, actually went to conservation through the zoo’s Quarters for Conservation Program. The program works by giving .25 cents of each admission fee and $2.50 of every membership purchase to worldwide conservation programs. But similar to Dallas, the zoo spent four times that on promotions and advertising—$399, 198.
The Sedgwick Zoo divides that meager $108,215 among 27 field conservation projects and like Dallas only two have anything to do with elephants in Africa but nothing to do with reintroducing elephants in the wild. We uncovered that one of the projects that the zoo actually contributes to is the Ngwenya Rhino and Elephant Fund, which in the late 90s was handed over to the Swaziland’s Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, which is also managed by Big Games Park. But as noted earlier, Swaziland’s Big Game Parks is the entity that allowed the 17 Swaziland elephants to be shipped off to U.S. zoos!
The three zoos involved in the involved in this recent scheme with Swaziland are certainly not alone in their fraudulent claims to the public that visiting the elephants at their facilities contributes to any substantial conservation of elephants in Africa, and a press release on the AZA website adds insult to injury.
One of the ways the organization claims elephants in all AZA-accredited zoos are benefiting elephants around the world is through “contraceptive drugs and techniques available as an alternative to culling.” We are baffled by why the AZA, and the Humane Society International for that matter, participates in research that would result in the use of the fertility control drug PZP on a species that is currently endangered in Asia and threatened in Africa.
If zoos were truly driven by conservation rather than their misguided attitude that captivity promotes it, they would eliminate their elephant exhibits and protect elephants where they live, which is a more cost effective way to ensure elephants never go extinct in Africa. It has been documented that the cost of keeping elephants in zoos is 50 times more expensive than protecting equivalent numbers in their natural range.
No matter what they spend, the zoos can never provide the space needed for elephants to thrive. In their natural range, African elephants are used to travelling 19 to 37 miles a day. The Dallas Zoo’s $30 million enclosure provides only 11 acres for nine elephants. The Sedgewick County Zoo’s enclosure only provides five acres for its six elephants. And the Omaha Doorly Zoo only provides four acres for its six elephants.
According to an AZA survey, AZA-accredited zoos annually spend an average of $58,000 per elephant. In 2011, there were 308 elephants in AZA zoos, so that adds up to zoos spending an estimated $17, 864,000 annually to maintain these animals.
In contrast true conservation organizations protecting elephants where they live have much more modest budgets. For example, in 2014 annual revenue for the aforementioned Amboseli Elephant Trust was just $455,272.
And in 2013, The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, world-renown for its Orphan Project, which rehabilitates and releases elephants back into Tsavo and Nairobi National Parks in Kenya, regions once devastated by poaching, launched the “Sky Vets” program with $186,229 from the U.S. Friends of the Trust. The program deploys Kenya Wildlife Service veterinarians by air throughout Kenya to emergency wildlife cases that cannot be attended to through one of the mobile units due to distance or time constraints. In 2015, the DSWT’s mobile veterinary units and the Sky Vet program attended to 446 wild animals, including 219 elephants, who had to be treated because of poaching, human-wildlife conflict and loss of habitat due to human expansion. Also three new babies were wild born to the Trusts’ hand-reared exorphans in 2015, with a fourth born in early 2016. Ex orphans have now added a total of 19 wild born babies to the Tsavo elephant population.
Now that’s meaningful elephant conservation work in Africa.
Likewise, for more than a decade, FoA delivered important anti-poaching supplies to government wildlife agencies in 10 African countries such as aircraft, patrol vehicles, VHF radios, night vision goggles, generators, uniforms, tents, field equipment and other items.
Looking ahead, we are investing our time and resources on preventing any future proposals to import African elephants to U.S. zoos because no matter how much zoos contribute to conservation, it can never be enough to justify keeping elephants in the confines of their commercial attractions. We are sick and tired of their twisted logic.