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Massachusetts Zoo Denies Cruelty to Elephants

PHOTO: Ruth and Emily, elephants at New Bedford’s Buttonwood Park Zoo in this 2006 photo, are at the center of continuing claims of abuse leveled by an animal-rights organization. Photo credit: LGagnon/Wikimedia Commons
PHOTO: Ruth and Emily, elephants at New Bedford’s Buttonwood Park Zoo in this 2006 photo, are at the center of continuing claims of abuse leveled by an animal-rights organization. Photo credit: LGagnon/Wikimedia Commons
January 26, 2015

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. - A New Bedford zoo is again denying claims it abuses its elephants. The Buttonwood Park Zoo is, for the fifth year, on an annual list put out by the animal-rights group In Defense of Animals, or IDA. The group says the zoo is the fourth-worst in North America in its treatment of elephants. It has two females, 56 and 51-years old. The IDA's Toni Frohoff, Ph.D., Elephant & Cetacean Scientist, explains.

"Both Ruth and Emily, the two elephants, suffer from chronic foot disease and arthritis, leading causes of death for elephants living in small, inadequate spaces in zoos," says Dr. Frohoff.

Zoo officials acknowledge one of the elephants suffered frostbite last year when they got out accidentally in wintertime. They say it would be inhumane to move them elsewhere at their advanced ages and they plan to care for Ruth and Emily until they expire and will not house any more elephants.

Buttonwood Park Zoo Director Keith Lovett defends the facility's care.

"These elephants have had a fairly tough life, but I stand by the care we provide at Buttonwood Park Zoo," says Lovett. "We have a very passionate staff, we have a very passionate community, and they would not stand for the type of treatment that is being accused."

Dr. Frohoff says the zoo shouldn't wait to phase out its elephant program.

"Buttonwood Park Zoo has the opportunity to be heroes or villains in this," she says. "They can be heroes if they finally do what's best and end this frigid fiasco of an elephant program that they have in New Bedford."

Dr. Frohoff says zoos keeping elephants, especially in colder North American climates, are guilty of "captivity in the guise of conservation."

"There is nobody who wants to see these elephants moved if they don't have to," she says. "But theses elephants in our top 10 list really deserve a much better life, should they be able to survive the horrible conditions in which they're in."

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - MA