City Council: Reid Park Zoo elephants will split
Reporter: Jessica Chapin
TUCSON (KGUN9- TV) - City council members put the Reid Park Zoo's latest controversy to rest Tuesday afternoon, when they voted to continue the zoo's plan to separate Tucson's two elephants, Connie and Shaba.
Controversy erupted when a group of elephant enthusiasts spoke out at last week's council meeting about the split. The two elephants, one Asian, the other African, have been together for 30 years. The Asian elephant will join a herd of her own kind in San Diego at a facility which specializes in elderly elephants. Shaba, her African counter-part, will join a new breeding herd coming to a new expanded exhibit at the Reid Park Zoo this Spring.
It's a habitat council member Paul Cunningham says was originally promised to keep the two elephants together when they started the process several years ago.
"That was the main focal point on why we expanded this elephant exhibit in the first place," said Cunningham, "Now we're coming back five years later telling a different story, people have a right to know why we're doing that."
In Tuesday's study session, the council heard from zookeepers and elephant experts from San Diego, like Jeff Andrews.
"We know we're doing the right thing and in so doing we're going to keep pushing forward," he said, referring to the importance of elephant breeding and elderly elephant care, "and this is our opportunity to convince even more people that this is the right thing to do."
Zoo administrators also point to new regulations from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums which state elephant herds should be separated by species. This and Connie's age are reasons they say their decision is what's best for both animals.
Council member Steve Kozachik says he is confident in keeping with the zoo's plan to separate Connie and Shaba, regardless of the original intent of the zoo's expansion.
"It wasn't a bait and switch," he said, "It was just simply a matter of things changing over time and the plans changed along with them."
The council made its decision without hearing from concerned citizens who previously spoke in favor of keeping the animals together.
The zoo is expected to start the transition this January.