Pittsburgh – Through a Freedom of Information Act request, PETA has uncovered records showing that the Pittsburgh Zoo applied to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) last year for permission to import 13 wild-caught juvenile elephants from Zimbabwe to be placed at the zoo’s off-site International Conservation Center, where they would have been used for breeding.
The records show that the zoo would have paid for the elephants to be captured. Typically, snipers shoot the juvenile elephants with sedatives or tranquilizers from helicopters, which then chase off their protective families. These traumatic operations are roundly condemned by conservationists and elephant specialists.
The application has since been withdrawn, and PETA has sent a letter urging the board of the Pittsburgh Zoo to adopt an official policy opposing efforts to capture elephants, end elephant breeding, and phase out the zoo’s elephant program. Because future import bids are not unlikely, the organization has also submitted formal comments to the FWS explaining why the Pittsburgh Zoo can never meet the legal qualifications for importing wild-caught baby elephants. The comments point to citations showing that the zoo was understaffed and unprepared for the 2017 birth of a calf who died after only three months.
“Anyone who cares about animals will be appalled by the Pittsburgh Zoo’s secret bid to tear young elephants away from their loving families,” says PETA Foundation Deputy Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Rachel Mathews. “PETA is calling on the zoo to phase out its failing elephant program before another generation of elephants is sentenced to short, miserable lives.”
As of the August 2019 Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, except under “exceptional circumstances,” elephants in Zimbabwe and Botswana must stay in their natural ranges and must not be sent to zoos—a change that occurred while the Pittsburgh Zoo’s application was pending with the FWS.