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Third elephant dies after controversial transfer

Patricia Ward Biederman Los Angeles Times

The death of the last of three elephants transferred from the San Diego Wild Animal Park to other facilities has zoo officials pondering what went wrong and animal-rights activists saying “We told you so.”

“It’s a sad day,” San Diego Zoo Executive Director Douglas Myers said of the death of Wankie, a 36-year-old African elephant that belonged to the zoo. The elephant was euthanized early Sunday at the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, after she had arrived Saturday night from Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo unable to stand.

Wankie was the last of three elephants to die since they were moved in 2003 from San Diego to the Lincoln Park Zoo over the protests of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other animal-rights groups.

The activists argued that Chicago, with its bitterly cold winters, was no place for elephants used to balmy San Diego and urged that they be sent to a sanctuary instead.

Peaches, 55, believed to be the oldest female African elephant in captivity in the United States, died at Lincoln Park earlier this year, apparently of old age. Tatima, 35, died in October of a disease similar to tuberculosis.

Chicago-based Debbie Leahy, PETA’s director for captive animals and entertainment issues, said the death confirmed her worst fears.

“We wrote to the Lincoln Park Zoo director and begged him not to take the animals,” Leahy said. The group had kept track of the elephants in Chicago, and “it was obvious they weren’t doing well,” she said.

Wankie’s death “underscores the problem of keeping elephants in zoos,” Leahy said. PETA wanted the elephants sent to one of two sanctuaries in the country where they would have been able to bond with other females and roam freely.

“These are animals who in the wild would be walking 30 miles a day, and this activity is essential for their health and well-being,” she said.

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