Pittsburgh Zoo Faces Flack for Separating Elephant Calf From Mother

PETA Urges Zoo to Stop Breeding Elephants in the Midst of Premature Calf's Isolation

For Immediate Release:
June 7, 2017

Brooke Rossi 202-483-7382

Pittsburgh – Today, PETA fired off a letter urging the Pittsburgh Zoo to end its elephant-breeding program after a calf born prematurely last week at an affiliated facility in Somerset County was taken away from her mother, transported to the zoo, and isolated from other elephants to be raised by humans.

In the letter, PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—notes that the calf and her mother were separated even after they had reportedly bonded and that splitting up elephant families has severe effects on both mother and child. The trauma can cause lifelong behavioral problems, such as aggression, a lack of appropriate social skills, and an increased frequency of abnormal behavior.

“Elephants are highly intelligent, emotional, and social animals who suffer when separated from their close-knit families, just as humans do,” says PETA Foundation Associate Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Rachel Mathews. “PETA is calling on the Pittsburgh Zoo to stop breeding and traumatizing elephants in a transparent ploy to lure in ticket buyers with the promise of baby animals.”

Two years ago, the Pittsburgh Zoo parted ways with the Association of Zoos & Aquariums because it refused to switch to a protected-contact elephant-management system, in which humans and elephants are always separated by a barrier. Instead, the zoo has used dogs to herd elephants—which earned the facility a citation for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act—as well as bullhooks, weapons that resemble a fireplace poker with a sharp metal hook on one end and are commonly seen in circuses.

For more information, please visit PETA.org.

PETA’s letter to the Pittsburgh Zoo follows.

June 7, 2017

Dr. Barbara Baker

President and CEO

Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium

Dear Dr. Baker,

I am writing on behalf of PETA to express grave concern over the health and well-being of the elephant Seeni and her calf, who was born prematurely at the International Conservation Center (ICC) last week but promptly taken from her mother and sent to the Pittsburgh Zoo.

The media is reporting that ICC staff left Seeni unmonitored overnight in the final weeks of her pregnancy, even though they were reportedly “concerned” about the health of mother and baby. Staff were “shocked” to find Seeni had given birth to the underweight, premature calf. Though the pair had reportedly bonded, the zoo says Seeni was not properly caring for the calf (which, notably, it had expected).The zoo took the calf from her mother and moved her from the private ICC facility to the zoo, where, if she survives, she’ll be put on public display and will inevitably boost ticket sales. For now, the calf is completely isolated from her mother or any other elephant.

From the beginning, this infant has been deprived of the nurturing care of a mother and a family. Normally, she would have nursed for several years while learning crucial social and behavioral skills from her mother and her protective, affectionate relatives. Mothers of any species and their offspring share an intense emotional bond, and breaking that bond causes immense distress physically and psychologically. Splitting up elephant families has severe impacts on each individual, and the trauma can cause lifelong behavioral problems such as aggression, a lack of appropriate social skills, and an increased frequency of abnormal behaviors.

These highly intelligent, emotional, and social animals suffer when separated from their close-knit families, just as humans do. Seeni and her calf must be the last elephants who experience this trauma at the Pittsburgh Zoo and ICC. Please prioritize animal welfare and stop breeding elephants.

Very truly yours,

Rachel Mathews, Esq.

Associate Director | Captive Animal Law Enforcement

For Media: Contact PETA's
Media Response Team.


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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind