Living large with room to roam
S.F. Zoo elephants ready to retire to one of two U.S.sanctuaries
Patricia Yollin, Chronicle Staff Writer
You can drink at the Red Brick Saloon, snack on "angel flake donuts" and eat at the Station 49 Diner if you visit the Sierra foothills town ofSan Andreas. Or go 2,282 miles east toHohenwald,Tenn., to buy a tractor, see the Lewis County Museum of Natural History and sell your scrap at a downtown pawn shop.
If you're an elephant, just head straight for the local sanctuary: San Andreas and Hohenwald are pachyderm paradises. And one of these days, San Francisco Zoo residents Lulu and Tinkerbelle will be packing their trunks and moving to either Calaveras County or Tennessee.
Carol Buckley, a former exotic animal trainer who runs the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, said she tells new arrivals one thing: "We are here to serve you. We don't want to control you."
Hohenwald and San Andreas are among the few places on Earth where elephants have nothing to worry about: no chains, bullhooks, concrete floors, beatings, shrinking habitats, ivory poachers or ennui.
"I'm philosophically opposed to the bullhook boys -- the guys with the big belt buckles that hang down to their knees, and they've got a big bullhook and they're managing 10,000 pounds of killer beast," said Pat Derby, who oversees the Performing Animal Welfare Society's Ark 2000 sanctuary in San Andreas, 123 miles east of San Francisco.
Facing escalating pressure from animal rights activists and politicians after the deaths of two other elephants earlier this year, San Francisco Zoo director Manuel Mollinedo decided on June 2 to send Lulu and Tinkerbelle to San Andreas or Hohenwald -- defying the powerful American Zoo and Aquarium Association, which had recommended other zoos instead.
Although the San Francisco Zoo risks losing its AZA accreditation, Mollinedo said African elephant Lulu and Asian elephant Tinkerbelle, both solitary 38-year-olds, needed a lot more space and pachyderm pals. Their future home will be determined in the next few weeks, but it's unclear when they'll leave.
"It's not like moving your pet hamster," Mollinedo said.
The morning after he announced his decision,Derbywas getting her 2,300-acre sanctuary ready for its first non-elephant residents -- abused tigers from Southern California.
From the road, the only hint that this ranch might be a little different is a rusting iron gate with six elephants parading across the top, a pachyderm face in the middle and an Ark 2000 logo.
It took a five-minute trip up the driveway, past another gate through swirling clouds of red dirt and gravel dust, before any elephants were visible.
Annie, a 48-year-old Asian elephant from the Milwaukee Zoo, was tossing hay on her back. Minnie, 48, and Rebecca, 43, were ambling down to the lake. Before long, they were splashing around like schoolkids rather than arthritic retirees from the Ringling Bros. circus.
To avoid communicable diseases and clashing temperaments, Africans and Asians are typically separated, and the PAWS sanctuary is no exception. The Asians have a 40-acre spread, half as much as Mara and "71," their perkier 23-year-old African colleagues.
"The Africans are free spirits. The Asians are senior citizens," Derby said. "It's like the Crips and the Bloods. It would be like sending gangbangers to a senior citizens' home."
Derbyherself is 62, a fourth-generation vegetarian with long red hair and strong opinions. She used to train wild animals inHollywoodfor films and TV shows, including "Lassie" and "Flipper."
She opened the San Andreas refuge in October 2002. Before that, the elephants lived in the PAWS sanctuary in Galt, aSacramentoCountyretreat that opened two decades ago and now houses bears and exotic cats. It's close to the organization's hoofstock haven in Herald.
Derbyand her husband, Ed Stewart, divide their time between the three sanctuaries of PAWS -- a nonprofit with a $2 million annual budget covered by $25 yearly memberships, grants and the generosity of big-name supporters such as Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin.
"Captivity is a jail,"Derbysaid. "You can make it as pleasant as possible, but it's still captivity and they're deprived."
In San Andreas, there are yellow-brown hills, shrubs, bamboo, grasses, a 5-acre lake, heated barn and trees that range from oak and cottonwood to Chinese locust. There is also acacia, a favorite treat.
The sanctuary is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Fish and Game. John Stark, of the state agency, said the refuge has been problem-free.
He added that neighbors are inevitably curious.
"Just think JurassicPark," he tells them.
Derbysaid the elephants have developed their own routines. They get up around5 a.m., eat breakfast, head for the lake, retreat to the trees, browse and graze, drop by their mud holes and return for dinner around5 p.m.
They usually choose to sleep outside, though they're brought in the barn if the temperature drops below 45. And they always have company: either Derby and Stewart, or one of seven keepers, spend the night in their sleeping bags.
Minnie and Rebecca are clocked when they nap in full sun and are awakened after 45 minutes to avoid heat prostration. Annie, too crippled to walk to the lake, soaks in the elephant Jacuzzi every night.
Twice a week, veterinarian Jackie Gai tends to the pachyderms. She said all five are thriving.
"Their mobility has increased," she said. "It's almost like this place is physical therapy."
Derby has worked with elephants for 35 years. She raised "71" -- the weakling in a herd of 93 formerly owned by an eccentric Florida millionaire. What does she like about them?
"Everything," she said. "There's nothing I don't like. I like their smells, their sounds, their movements, their spirits."
Derby said Tinkerbelle would be quarantined first in Galt to make sure she's free of the tuberculosis her deceased companion Calle once had. On the other hand, Lulu -- who lost her friend Maybelle on April 22 -- could move right in with Mara and 71.
"Mara and Lulu have the same temperament," she said. "They're very playful. 71 is the boss. And Lulu had a boss -- Maybelle. In captivity we don't have herds, we don't have matriarchs. We have these little dysfunctional groups of elephants who are forced to live with each other."
Derby and her husband pioneered the no-dominance approach to elephants, which uses patience and persuasion rather than chains and bullhooks. She goes through many buckets of banana bribes, but it pays off.
"I've never been hurt by a wild animal," she said. "I've never tried to hurt them. I'm just somebody elephants like and trust."
At the only other sanctuary in the country that accepts solely female pachyderms, the word "trust" is used a lot. It is the basis for the relationships Carol Buckley and Scott Blais have developed with the eight Asian and three African elephants at their 2,700-acre refuge in Hohenwald, 83 miles southwest of Nashville.
The animals' histories are full of heartbreak and horror.
Jenny is blind in her right eye, and her left leg is crippled. A fire in a circus barn claimed a chunk of Shirley's right ear. Sissy was swept away in a flood and wrapped around a tree limb. Years later, she was the victim of a beating that was caught on videotape.
Sissy also fatally crushed a keeper in Texas in 1997.
"She was labeled a killer," said Buckley, a 50-year-old native of Orange County. "But she was the sweetest elephant I've ever seen."
She said pachyderms, which live to be 35 on average in captivity but into their 70s in the wild, need vegetation, other elephants and room to roam -- 30 to 50 miles a day in the natural world.
In Hohenwald, they enjoy pastures, rolling hills, ponds and mud holes, dense woodland and more than 100 varieties of trees, including sycamore, hickory and cedar -- along with plenty of poison ivy to devour.
Although the Tennessee and San Andreas sanctuaries are closed to the public, Hohenwald's seven "elecams" allow the "elefans" to keep up with their favorites on a Web site.
The nonprofit's 30,000 members pay from $10 up to sustain the sanctuary, which had a $1.2 million budget last year and employs seven keepers.
It's clear that Buckley and Blais, who live together at the refuge, are nuts about pachyderms.
"Elephants wear their emotions on their sleeves. They are sensitive, kind and caring," Buckley said. "They're deep thinkers, and they're very inclusive. And they are absolutely honest."
Blais, 31, said he was amazed by their "depth of compassion."
And they never forget. Jenny and Shirley were reunited five years ago after a few weeks together at a circus -- 23 years before.
"They recognized each other," Buckley said.
Like problem children written off as hopeless, the elephants are saddled with labels and reputations when they show up.
Blais said Delhi, who arrived in November from Illinois, "never played," according to her keeper.
He proceeded to spend half an hour horsing around with Delhi, who blissfully kicked and flung balls around, trumpeting madly.
Delhi was the first elephant ever confiscated by the USDA. A keeper had used undiluted formaldehyde to soak her feet, resulting in severe chemical burns. She and Tina, the sanctuary's only captive-born elephant, get 20-minute soaks twice a day for their diseased feet -- part of the homeopathic approach Buckley favors.
"Tina has the personality of a princess," said Buckley, as she and Blais placed her feet in buckets of water mixed with apple cider vinegar.
Tina is patient, though. She stood for two hours while casts were made of her feet for shoes that Teva will donate. It's one of many gifts the elephants receive.
Buckley has worked with elephants since 1976, when she bought one for $25,000 and created a circus act. She taught Tarra to waltz, play the harmonica and even to roller-skate -- and saw nothing wrong with that until some animal rights activists changed her mind.
Tarra was the inspiration for the sanctuary, which opened in 1995. She lives there now.
Before Buckley will agree to accept the San Francisco elephants, her vet must examine Tinkerbelle to make sure a three-day trip won't be harmful, while Flora, the newest African, must fully adjust before Lulu could join the herd.
And elephants can't be rushed. It took Bunny, who arrived in 1999, six weeks to go into the trailer that would eventually bring her from Evansville, Ind.
"The zoo world manages elephants as a species," Buckley said. "We manage elephants as individuals."
The Future of Tinkerbelle and Lulu
Tinkerbelle and Lulu are currently residents of the San Francisco Zoo, where they have lived for nearly four decades. However, due to serious concerns for their welfare, the Zoo has made the important decision to retire the elephants to a facility that is better equipped to care for their needs.
On May 27th the San Francisco Zoo made a formal request, asking The Elephant Sanctuary to respond to a list of questions designed to evaluate the most appropriate sanctuary for Tinkerbelle and Lulu. The Elephant Sanctuary is thrilled that zoo director Manual Mollinedo has made the sound decision to retire both elephants to a sanctuary. We support his approach of researching various options prior to making a final determination for the placement of both elephants.
Although the Sanctuary would love to welcome both Tinkerbelle and Lulu, we do have concerns which are outlined in the letter below. This letter was sent to Mr. Mollinedo on June 5th, and was motivated by a desire to ensure the best possible future for these elephants. We share a common goal with all who have demonstrated a concern for Tinkerbelle and Lulus welfare, and trust the San Francisco Zoo to act in the elephants best interests.
June 5, 2004
Director Manuel Mollinedo
The San Francisco Zoo
1 Zoo Road
San Francisco, California 94132
Via fax: 415-681-2039
Dear Mr. Mollinedo:
Thank you for your recent letter regarding Tinkerbelle and Lulu. I am more than happy to provide you with the information you request but first wish to explain my position regarding the possible placement of your elephants at The Elephant Sanctuary.
As I discussed with you and your staff, I am concerned about moving Tinkerbelle to the Sanctuary. The trip is long, and for an elephant suffering from foot problems and arthritis, I am concerned that the trip could cause some short term and even long term complications. Please understand that it is not necessarily the trip that posses the problem but Tinkerbelles condition which will compromise her ability to stabilize herself during the trip.
Admittedly, I do not know the full extent of Tinkerbelles condition and would need to have our veterinarian examine Tinkerbelles medical records as well as speak with your veterinarians to determine if the trip to Tennessee would be advised. We would love to provide a home for Tinkerbelle but feel it is imperative to determine if the three day trip to Tennessee would be harmful to her.
Regarding Lulu and her possible placement at the Sanctuary, again we would love to welcome Lulu into our herd. I must make you aware that at this time we are not accepting new African elephants. Flora, our most recent arrival, has made great progress integrating with her new staff and fellow elephants but she is not fully intergrated. We will not commit to accepting another elephant until Flora is fully integrated. This process could take several days to weeks.
Knowing our concerns regarding transporting Tinkerbelle and our inability to accept Lulu immediately, I will understand if you decide to remove the Sanctuary from the list of possible placements for your elephants.
Please let me know if I can be of any assistance. Just as you, my only agenda is what is best for Tinkerbelle and Lulu.
Thanks to a successful collaboration between the Los Angeles Zoo Association, Orange County People for Animals, and The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Calle, a 30-year-old endangered Asian elephant, may soon be able to retire and live the rest of her life in peace at The Elephant Sanctuary.
"Based on our careful consideration of Calle's special needs, a cooperative effort between the OCPA, the Zoo and The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, seemed to be a win-win situation for everyone -- especially Calle," said Manuel Mollinedo, director of the L. A. Zoo, who paid an official visit to Hohenwald on March 19 to tour the Sanctuary.
Under the collaborative effort, the L. A. Zoo has agreed to send Calle to live with three other elephants at The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald if her endowment and transportation costs can be funded. Calle is currently being held on a temporary loan basis at the San Francisco Zoo. The L. A. Zoo has accepted an offer from OCPA, an animal welfare group in Orange County,CA, to fund the entire cost of Calle's endowment and moving expenses, approximately $205,000.00. OCPA has be granted nine months to raise the money, and has already begun efforts to rally public support for this endangered Asian elephant.
Update on Calle
December 1, 1997
Difficulties continue to plague Calle. After she struck a keeper at the Los Angeles Zoo, she was temporarily relocated to the San Francisco Zoo. Upon arrival, Calle was put in quarantine. This standard 30-day precautionary measure which allows time to identify the presence of disease has stretched into a 6-month stay. What is keeping Calle confined is that she tested positive for Mycobacterium Tuberculosis, a strain of TB contagious to humans and one that has infected and killed several elephants.
Calle's isolation was a major disappointment for the people who wanted to meet her and even more devastating to another solitary soul, Tinkerbelle.
Tinkerbelle, a long-time resident of the San Francisco Zoo, lost her companion two years ago. Since Calle and Tinkerbelle are aware of the other's presence, their separation is unbearable. Being highly social animals, they need the companionship of others of their species. But this separation is in their best interest because Calle's disease is highly contagious both to elephants and humans.
Keepers have finally succeeded in administering Calle's medication. She refused every oral application they attempted, detecting and removing medication from a variety of foods. According to the general curator, the last effort was to resort to suppositories. Reportedly, Calle is accepting the medication and will continue to undergo the suppository treatment for 12 months.
TB diagnosis and treatment in elephants is a new area for exotic animal medicine. According to Dr. Dick Montali, AZA Elephant SSP pathology advisor, "Most diagnostic tests to determine disease status work reasonably well in humans, domestic cattle, and deer species but have not been validated for elephants." USDA has no formal guidelines for the diagnosis or treatment of TB in elephants but has assigned a panel to explore the task. The draft guidelines developed and distributed earlier this year are presently under revision.