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Those who love their pets tend to enjoy all animals. Our animal owners are no different. Check in on News-Herald staffers Robin Palmer and Cheryl Sadler as they share their own animal tales and announce upcoming events in Lake and Geauga counties.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tomlin speaks up for captive pachyderms

Lily Tomlin's concern for animals is no laughing matter.

The 69-year-old comic and actress, who performed in Cleveland this month, has spent much of her energy promoting the retirement of aging zoo elephants to sanctuaries where they can roam free and recover from a life of captivity.

Tomlin's pet causes are Jenny of Dallas Zoo and Billy of Los Angeles Zoo.

In her latest blog, she cites a December study of 4,500 elephants "that concluded elephants in the wild live up to three times longer than in zoos, even though elephants in zoos live predator-free and receive regular veterinary care and a steady source of food." Time magazine also recently picked up the story, finding that new elephant enclosures being built across the country haven't proven to increase health or longevity.

Already 32 years old and nearing the average captive elephant's lifespan, Jenny is an emotional train wreck. Her supporters say she likely witnessed her own mother's death, has been psychologically and physically traumatized over time, and receives tranquilizers to keep her from self-mutilating. Yet the zoo clearly doesn't feel she's earned her freedom, and even considered sending her to a "drive-thru" zoo in Mexico before settling on a long-term habitat expansion. Supporters say she may not live to see it.

Billy, who in nature would be a social animal, has been in solitary confinement 20 years, and his bored behaviors have resulted in worsening foot damage, the leading cause of euthanasia among captive elephants, his supporters claim. Wild elephants can walk 30 miles a day; 640 acres make up one mile; and L.A.'s resident giant has about a quarter acre to roam. Supporters' ideal sanctuary for him would include 2,300 acres, bathing lakes and therapeutic jacuzzis -- but again, another case of politics at their least humane.

I love seeing elephants in the zoo as much as the next nature buff. They're always a highlight, and I believe exposure to wild animals is key for young people. But sentencing these tremendous creatures to cramped spaces for their entire lives is unfair and flies in the face of reason.

It's a relief someone, let alone legendary Tomlin, has begun speaking for troubled titans that can't speak for themselves.

-- Sandra M. Klepach


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