Laura Goldman, who lives in Los Angeles, read an LA Times article last November about the Santa Ana Zoo's elephant rides, which have been blasted by animal-rights activists and defended by city officials.
"I thought it was bizarre that a zoo would offer elephant rides," Goldman tells me of her reaction to the article, which included zoo director Kent Yamaguchi defending the use of sharp bullhooks on the mammals.
It sparked Goldman to take action.
Fortunately for her (and others who feel the same way), she's an experienced opinion shaper when it comes to animal-rights issues.
Goldman championed the Change.org campaign asking Go Daddy's CEO Bob Parsons to help Zimbabwe farmers financially instead of shooting elephants. Her petition drew more than 26,000 signatures. She had written one of the first stories about Parson's elephant-shooting video, which was posted on Change.org a few days before PETA got wind of it, and it went viral.
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The Santa Ana Zoo in Southern California is only one of two accredited U.S. zoos that continue to offer elephant rides. Zoo Director Kent Yamaguchi refuses to stop them, saying he sees no evidence indicating that the elephants (which are rented by the zoo for weekend rides) are not properly cared for.
Yamaguchi also told the Los Angeles Times that he sees no problem with using a bullhook to train elephants. As its name implies, a bullhook consists of a sharp metal hook attached to a handle (PETA describes it as being like a fireplace poker). To make the elephant submit, the trainer pokes sensitive areas like the mouth, ears and anus with the hook, and beats it with the handle. Yet Yamaguchi compared bullhooks to dog collars. "You can't put a big collar and leash on an elephant, but you can use this little tool," he said. "If you need to tap them with it, you do."
The elephant rides are not only cruel for the elephants, but they put people at risk as well. All other cities in Orange County ban contact between people and elephants due to the risk that the animals may transmit tuberculosis. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) urges its members to stop elephant rides in the interest of public safety. Many zoos have instead adopted a "protected contact" training method that doesn't allow anyone, including zoo employees, to be in the same enclosure as an elephant. It's time for the Santa Ana Zoo to adopt a similar policy. Please sign the petition telling Zoo Director Kent Yamaguchi and Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido to ban elephant rides.