Philadelphia Zoo’s Elephant Exhibit Closure

Photo by John Fischer

The Philadelphia Zoo announced on October 5, 2006 their decision to close its elephant exhibit by the spring of 2007 and transfer all four of its elephants to other facilities.

At the time, the zoo's three African elephants, Petal, Kallie, and Bette were scheduled to move to The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore. The zoo's sole Asian elephant, Dulary, went to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

Heavy Pressure to Relocate Zoo's Elephants

The zoo had been under pressure for several years from groups such as Friends of Philly Zoo Elephants and Save Elephants in Zoos to find better homes for their four elephants. These groups argue that elephants require more room and more natural conditions than they current have in numerous major zoos across the country. The four elephants occupied a quarter-acre yard with a 1,800-square-foot barn built in the 1940s.

Impact of Dulary's Injury

The Philadelphia situation was brought to a head by two major factors. First, while the older two elephants, Petal and Dulary had lived together peacefully for many years, the introduction of the two younger elephants, Kallie and Bette, in April 2004 changed the living dynamic. The Asian elephant, Dulary, sustained a serious eye injury in August 2005 in a fight with the younger African elephant, Bette. Dulary had been separated from the others since that time and the pressure was on to find her a new home.

2005 Decision to Scrap Plans for New Exhibit

The zoo had hoped to include a new elephant 2.5-acre savannah in their capital improvement projects which include the Peco Primate Reserve, Bank of America Big Cat Falls and the scheduled new Bird House and new Children's Zoo. In 2006, however, the zoo dropped the plans for a new elephant exhibit, citing difficulty in raising the $22 million which would be required. From the time that decision was made, it seemed clear that it was only a matter of time before the elephants would be relocated.

The zoo had maintained for years that their current exhibit met national standards for elephant care and in fact when compared to other zoos such as the National Zoo in Washington, the exhibit does appear comparable. Clearly, however, outside pressure played as much as role as funding problems in finalizing the zoo's decision.

The Future

Perhaps the day will come in the future where pressure, perhaps due to attendance declines, will force the zoo to reconsider its capital funding priorities. Unfortunately, however, confined as it is in Fairmount Park, the zoo has limited room for expansion and funding always remains a problem.

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