Activists seek probe of Phila. Zoo elephants' new home

Former Philadelphia Zoo elephants Bette (left) and Kallie trunk-to-trunk at the International Conservation Center in Western Pennsylvania in July 2009.

An animal advocacy organization has filed a formal complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture over what they say are inhumane conditions at a western Pennsylvania facility that now houses two longtime Philadelphia Zoo elephants.

Kallie and Bette, elephants still owned by the Philadelphia Zoo, are currently confined at the International Conservation Center in Somerset, along with Jackson, a bull elephant owned by the Pittsburgh Zoo.

In its complaint, the group Friends of Philly Zoo Elephants (FPZE) says that an undercover investigation conducted earlier this fall revealed that elephants at the center were kept in a cement barn for most of last winter, denied free access to water for drinking and bathing and deprived items for mental enrichment. 

The failure of the facility to provide the elephants free access to a source of water and a variety of enrichment items – things that the elephants received at the Philadelphia Zoo – causes significant stress and discomfort and constitutes a violation of the Animal Welfare Act, FPZE claims.

The group says that ICC officials misled the Philadelphia Zoo and others by repeatedly claiming elephants at the facility would be allowed access to areas outside of their pens. In fact, the undercover investigation found that the elephants have been continually confined in pens of one to three acres since their arrival in July 2009, and there are no plans to allow them access to any of the rest of the 724-acre property.

“The Philadelphia Zoo apparently is asleep at the wheel when it comes to Kallie and Bette,” said Marianne Bessey, director of FPZE. “How much longer do these elephants have to suffer before the zoo does the right thing and sends them to a true sanctuary?”

Animal organizations criticized Kallie and Bette’s July 8, 2009, transfer to the Somerset facility for breeding, warning that the 28-year-old African elephants were already too old and that their lives would be endangered.

The group will hold a rally at 12:30 outside City Hall today to urge City Councilmembers to hold the Philadelphia Zoo accountable for the treatment of the two elephants.