St. Lucie County, FL Bans Use of Bullhooks at National Elephant Center
St. Lucie, FL
ST. LUCIE COUNTY — County commissioners and zoo officials found a way around the elephant in the room to allow such large mammals into St. Lucie County.
Representatives from the National Elephant Center agreed Tuesday to forbid the presence of a criticized training tool on the proposed 326-acre property as one condition for approval of a $4 million project to house up to 10 elephants.
Representatives from national and local animal-rights groups asked commissioners to ban the use of the bullhook, which resembles a fireplace poker, as a condition for project approval. Though plenty of other issues from access roads to disease control were raised, none drew the amount of response as the possible use of the tool.
Although representatives from the National Elephant Center claimed the bullhook could be used in a safe way and would only be used on a small portion of elephants, the group agreed to prohibit the bullhook.
The step paved the way for a 5-0 vote in favor of a project publicly backed by several groups, including the St. Lucie County Chamber of Commerce, while satisfying the demands of the animal-rights groups and the authors of almost 1,000 e-mails sent to each commissioner. Some activists who spoke against the project even stood and cheered after the final vote.
“We’re thrilled that we’re going to be making St. Lucie County our home,” said National Elephant Center Vice Chair Craig Piper.
Piper said the project could be completed by the end of 2010 and will have four employees. The National Elephant Center will provide education programs for schools as well as trainers, though it will not be open to the public. Some elephants could reside at the center permanently, while others could be temporarily housed for a minimum of two years while zoo renovations take place. In other instances, the site could be used to breed elephants.
The project is in western St. Lucie County along the Okeechobee County border on land owned by Waste Management.
“The more and more people get to know us and the commitment to the utmost care for elephants, they will grow to appreciate what we bring to the community and ally any concerns that they might have,” said Piper, who also is the president and CEO of the Denver Zoo.