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Elephants for Australian Zoos

Discussion in 'Australia' started by Nigel, 25 Nov 2004.

  1. Nigel

    Nigel Well-Known Member

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    As most of you who keep abreast with the media will know , a number of zoos in Australia and NZ are hoping to import elephants from Thailand .
    As much as I hope that there will be some breeding successes from this , I wonder about the feasibility of city zoos to be able to keep extra elephants .
    The elephants at Auckland zoo are not kept in their enclosure all day , they are taken for a walk around the zoo , and are often called upon to do any heavy work in construction of new enclosures at the zoo .
    Taronga park Zoo in Sydney is building a new elephant enclosure ( which I think is a good move as this is long overdue ) but is the enclosure really large enough to house extra elephants ? Also , elephants are not suited to steep terrain -- of which Taronga Park is mostly quite steep . This is one of the reasons why Wellington Zoo will never have elephants again .
    Is the new enclosure at Melbourne Zoo big enough to house extra elephants ?
    I cannot comment on this as I have not seen the new enclosure there .
    Personally I think it will make more sense to display elephants at open range zoos like Dubbo , Monarto , Werribee , Orana Park in Christchurch , etc
    or to make sure they are given plenty of stimulation , activities etc which is what Auckland Zoo tries hard to do . The walks are never at the same time each day , and the routes are always different , so to prevent boredom .
    Not to mention the huge surprise when the public sees an elephant come round the corner towards them ( as Sim will verify )
    If zoos choose to display elephants in small enclosures , citing financial benefits that such megafauna attract , I tend to wonder if the zoo really does care about the welfare and conservation/breeding of elephants ?
    Apparently alot of animal interest groups are making a big noise about the issue of keeping elephants in city zoos .
    How do other fellow forum members feel about this ?
     
  2. patrick

    patrick Well-Known Member

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    elephants in australian zoos

    a few years back 4 australasian zoos were faced with a decision to make. their elephants where living in substandard old fasioned concrete enclosures and needed to be moved. but if the zoos where to build a new exhibit for their elephants, it would cost millions of dollars and would only be worthwhile if the zoos became commited to displaying elephants in the long-term. this was to be a very big commitment for not only would it require finding the millions of dollars in funds needed to build a new world-class exhibit - it would require bringing into the country more elephants to innitiate breeding and keep these animals in a more natural and psychologically stimulating group setting. a co-operative agreement would have to be made with all the zoos comminting to similar procedures in husbandary and training tecniques and the zoos would need to become more actively involved with elephant conservation overseas.
    so auckland, melbourne, taronga and perth zoos all decided to keep their elephants and upgrade their enclosures and melbourne, who had been fundraising for the best part of 10 years began construction of their new world-class "trail of the elephants".

    but somewhere along the line the zoos got something terribly wrong.

    for starters, they forgot the most important thing of all - elephants need space, and lots of it!

    as beautiful as melbournes enclosure is for humans to look at, it really isn't much bigger than the old one. the really stupid thing is that melbourne, like taronga zoo, has a sister open range zoo, whos founding purpose was to display large, herd living megafauna in an open environment that better reflected a change in public opinion. strangely, the zoos felt the world largest megafauna species of all was exempt from qualifying for such a zoo.
    instead a whole bunch of half truths where used to try and convince the nieve public of why the elephants should be kept in the city rather than moved to the country.

    "asian elephants, unlike african elephants don't come from the savannah, they come from th rainforest and therefore are better staying in melbourne who can better re-create a rainforest environment"

    - actually as someone who has viewed asian elephants in the wild on numerous occasions, believe me, they ofeten found in open grasslands.

    or what about;

    "it's not about how much space an animal has, its about how much how much behavioural enrichment it recieives"

    right, but wouldn't both be even better still? is a prisoner in the excersise yard just as happy as a free person?

    the truth is there is only one reason why the australasian statutory zoos chose to build their exhibits in the city - they needed a new drawcard to boost visitor numbers! its all about money and no doubt a few people who work at those city zoos who were attatched to their elephants and wanted to keep them there.

    personally, i'm not against keeping elephants in captivity. i have been to numerous elephant sanctuaries and national parks in asia where elephants are sucessfully kept in a reproductive, physically and mentally enriched environment.

    but there is not one single damned reason why melbournes elephants would are better off in a 10 million dollar exhibit in the city, rather than a 10 million dollar exhibit in the country. not one, and i welcome anyone to try to think of one and let me know.

    the aweful truth is, elephants don't even breed very well in captivity and if the zoos really wanted to gather the publics trust and do whats best for their elephants they would have sent ALL their elephants to the same open range zoo 10 years ago.

    this would have created a herd of 7 females (of which 4 are young enough to breed) and 3 males, of which at least 2 are still young and healthy enough to reproduce. once the animals began to breed, then the zoos could consider importing new stock. or even if the zoo herd required a bit of a lesson natural behaviour from some thai elephants, they could import a few more straight away, the public would understand because the zoos had already proved they where doing the right thing by their elephants, putting the animals they already had, first.

    the zoos wouldn't have even needed to raise all the money themselves. they simply could have pooled a few million each (rather than raise 10 million themselves!) to this new elephant breeding facility.

    but you can bet not one zoo wanted to give up their precious elephants. instead they all want to import more and make even more mistakes.

    elephants belong only in open-range zoos!

    send your local zoo an email asking them why, if they are so serious about elephant breeding they decided that the middle of a city was the best place to do it. ask them why they felt their elephants were better off in a cramped "enriched" exhibit in the city than an equally enriched one at any of the 3 perfecally good open-range public satutory zoo's in australia.

    in fact, open-range zoos experience nothing like the visitor numbers that city zoos get and something like elephants is exactly what the need to make them a little more interesting!!!
     
  3. Simon Hampel

    Simon Hampel Administrator Staff Member

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    I agree totally about the larger animals like elephants which thrive on open spaces ... open range zoos are the way to go. I've seen rhino's "up close and personal" at Werribee - and it is really quite an awesome experience. Elephants would be even more spectacular in that environment.

    Unfortunately, I think you are quite correct about elephants in city zoos - if you ask any young kid what they want to see at a zoo, many of them would say they want to see elephants ... and a zoo with no elephants wouldn't be a "real zoo" in many opinions. Sad, but true.
     
  4. Simon Hampel

    Simon Hampel Administrator Staff Member

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    SF zoo to ax elephant exhibit

    Article in the Washington Times ... SF zoo to ax elephant exhibit


     
  5. Nigel

    Nigel Well-Known Member

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    re San Francisco Zoo

    and its about time ! That is the worst US zoo I have seen , and for a prosperous and innovative city , their zoo is a disgrace .
    The most noticeable aspect is the very small old enclosures , and an overabundance of concrete everywhere .
    They had 2 elephant enclosures , but were not breeding elephants . Both enclosures were far too small for elephants ( maybe 200 square metres )
    Sydney , Melbourne ,Perth , Auckland and Christchurch Zoos are all far superior to this one , and even Wellington zoo is trying to surpass it -- in terms of conservation/breeding , enclosures and asthetics ( and until about 6 years ago , Wellington zoo was a disgrace ! )
    San Francisco could well do with a few large enclosures with multiple species in them , an underground nocturnal house and aquiriam . But they have row upon row of small single species enclosures , with very little natural flooring , and no apparent tools of stimuli for the more intelligent creatures .
     
  6. patrick

    patrick Well-Known Member

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    what about the circus elephants?

    i've been thinking and i believe the answer to the current debate on wether to import elephants or not can be solved by creating a solution to another issue regarding elephants in australia - what to do with the aging circus population that has no place to retire.

    as you know melbourne and taronga have spent millions on new elephant exhibits and perth is about to spend the same on a major upgrade (i think auckland has done the same) and there is no way these zoos are going to tear down these exhibit because some public opinion still believes they are not suitable. at the same time the zoos want to breed elephants and thus, they don't want to take in a bunch of elderly elephants who cannot breed or deal with the stress of a bull elephant in their herd. as i have said before i strongly believe that if the zoos were 100% motivated with the prospect of breeding their elephants (rather than finacial benifits of having elephants at the zoo), then they would have pooled their money and breeding age animals years ago and created a breeding facitity for the young animals at one of the open range zoos. instead they built new exhibit at the city zoos, that whilst (in my opinion) have greatly improved the lives of their animals, a long way falls short of a suitable breeding facility to accomodate a herd of animals. as well as this, the zoos decision to manage their elephants in the way they have has brought up the heated issue of importing more animals from asia.

    so what about the circus elephants?

    well a couple of years ago a melbourne woman saw that the ashton's circus was closing down and it's three elderly elephants were up for sale. based on the very successful "elephant sanctuary" in tennasee, USA, a foundation was formed to build a similar facility in victoria, not just for the elephants of ashton circus but hopefully to eventually accomodate the dozen asian elephants in circus' all over the country.

    unfortunately, despite great press and many supporters within the industry, the elephant sanctuary failed to raise the funds to secure the elephants and whilst two have since died, one was sold to another circus who had been embroiled in a legal battle with the RSPCA for the fact they had only one elephant.

    so there was the end of both those issues. for the meantime anyway.

    so whats my proposal?
    Melbourne, Auckland and Perth Zoo's construct a new exhibit to house their animals of breeding age (and possibly the older female companions of the perth and auckland animals). Considering that melbourne is the only one of these zoos with an open range facility (at its sister zoo in werribee) it makes sense that the new exhibit be built there.

    meanwhile taronga, perth, auckland and melbournes new exhibits will make a fabulous retirement home for a bunch of old friendly elephants in need of some
    TLC.

    the breeding program commences with two bulls and four cows and the city zoos have animals in their exhibits.

    no need to import any new elephants for the time being!

    what to you think???
     
  7. Simon Hampel

    Simon Hampel Administrator Staff Member

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    Just out of curiosity - how much do elephants cost ? When Ashtons closed up and sold off their elephants - do you know how much they were asking ?
     
  8. patrick

    patrick Well-Known Member

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    cost of an elephant

    from memory it was about $250,000 for the three of them. pretty cheap if you consider the earnings a well-managed elephant sanctuary will make you in visitor attendances. bloody expensive if you consider that two of the elephants died within a year of going on the market (of ill-health and old age).

    if the people of ashton's really did care about the elephants they would have loaned or donated them to the sanctaury. gigi's 46 and still performing at stardust circus. to say that the elephants have been working all their life and will die if they are stop is rediculous!
     
  9. Nigel

    Nigel Well-Known Member

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    Auckland zoo and elephants

    many thanks to you (Patrick) for your views on the subject . It is good to have someone to bounce some ideas around with .

    However , there is a little point I would like to make from your initial response of this thread ...

    Auckland Zoo used to have a disgraceful elephant enclosure -- it was a large stone prison about the same size of Melbourne Zoos Reptile house -- this includes the "exercise yard " and housed at least 2 elephants ! ( I did say it was a disgrace , right ? )
    A few years ago , Auckland Zoo management decided that something had to be done -- the old elephant enclosure was bad news . You couldnt even see the elephants in the house , and if they were in the yard , ocassionally a trunk would slip out to feel about what was outside ......

    At that time , Hamilton Zoo was too small to even consider taking on 2 elephants ( it was barely a zoo ) and Christchurch Orana Park was also very new , and it was close to closing due to lack of $$s
    Wellington Zoo was well established , but most of the zoo is steeper than Taronga Park in Sydney ( and that is really saying something !! ) and so this is totally unsuitable for elephants .
    It was decided that it would be costly ( and unsuitable ) to ship the elephants to Australia -- they cant go for an exercise walk around the cargo ship and trumpet to the captain up in the bridge -- they were too big for air travel at the time , and the idea of killing 2 otherwise healthy female elephants was repulsive to all parties concerned .....
    So while Australian city zoos were building newer enclosures for their elephants , Auckland Zoo had to build a new enclosure because it was not possible to transport the elephants anywhere else , and the idea of a wide range zoo in the countryside was not ( and still is not ) in existance .....
    Where Australia has Dubbo , Werribee , Monarto Zoos , and it would take no more than a day for the city zoos to truck the elephants to the open range zoo in their state , Auckland Zoo had to fix the problem in its own backyard

    The new enclosure is approx a hectare in size ( still far too small for elephants , but a darn site bigger than Melbournes Zoos reptile house ) and they have a good part of it out of human view . Even with a new enclosure , the elephants are let out at least a couple of times a day , they are taken for walks around the zoo -- the times and routes are always different , they are used for heavy lifting or hauling for new enclosure construction in the zoo , they are taken off site to some woodland area where they are free to rub against real trees , or eat browse , or whatever they want to do
    I cant imagine Taronga Park or Melbourne letting their elephants out to have a wander around the zoo with the public somehow , but it does happen on a daily basis at Auckland ( Sim can verify this )
     
  10. patrick

    patrick Well-Known Member

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    elephant walks

    mek kapah, melbourne zoo's female elephant, is walked daily around the zoo grounds and often during opening hours. you'll be standing looking at some birds and is great big heaving hunk of grey silently and gracefully wanders past. she is a very docile elephant and i have noticed niether she, nor her mate bong su (who being male is not trusted outside the exhibit) often sway back and forth since their new exhibit opened. the now constructed "stage 1"
    of this exhibit is 2.5 hectares - more than twice the size of aucklands going by your info. i expect it will be about a third larger when the bull paddock and barn are constructed as part of "stage 2".

    i actually believe all the australian zoo's with elephants (except taronga who have tried unsuccessfully) walk them around the zoo now. its part of a plan to manage all the animals using the same techniques australasia-wide.

    the thing that appeals to me most about the auckland elephant management is the idea of the animals helping to construct new exhibits and the fact that they have occasional access to a woodland. unfortuanately melbourne does not walk their elephant around surrounding royal park, i guess having her outside the zoo grounds is too dangerous.

    i appreciate the information you gave me on the elephants there in NZ, however i have little doubt that if the melbourne, perth and auckland really wanted to breed their animals, they could have afforded to send two elephants across the tasman - after all they are planning to send 9 in from thailand and thats via the cocos-keeling islands!
     
  11. Nigel

    Nigel Well-Known Member

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    elephants

    many thanks for your interesting input , Patrick .
    I am not 100% sure of the exact size of Auckland Zoos elephant enclosure , it is a bit hard to guestimate sometimes . But I hope to find out exactly how big it really is . Auckland has 2 Asian females -- Kashin and Burma .
    Auckland Zoo realises that it is hard to keep elephants at the zoo , hence the large number of activities that they ( the keepers ) do for the elephants .
    I have learnt from other source some idea about Auckland bringing in more elephants -- I dont know the whole picture , and whether it is true . But I dont think Auckland Zoo can realistically accomodate more elephants .
    The keepers even train the elephants to stay STILL while ropes and chains are put on them , and then are taken off after a few minutes . If there is any (medical) emergency , it will be easier to treat a co operative elephant on site , rather than risk stress in the vet hospital .
    And an elephant makes pulling out of tree stumps look like childs play , and is a lot more efficient at it than tractors and chains etc making alot of noise .....
    Kashin and Burma obviously like their new home , as they often trumpet and lie down , and wriggle in the dust .......
    When the new hippo ( and rhino , come to think of it )enclosure was being made -- what better way to make a mudpool than to get a couple of experts
    -- the elephants !
     
  12. Nigel

    Nigel Well-Known Member

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    elephant enclosure size at Auckland Zoo

    Your request from our website has been forwarded to me. As per your information request the Auckland Zoo elephant exhibit is approximately 52m x 80m or a total area of approximately 4160sqm.

    How does that compare with Melbourne Zoos elephant project ?
    I am sure this is bigger than Sydneys .
     
  13. patrick

    patrick Well-Known Member

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    tarongas exhibit

    sorry mate, i would have no idea what 2.5 hectares is in square metres. but i'm pretty sure that's the current size of the melbourne exhibit, not the estimate of its size apon colmpletion. i did have a good look at the taronga exhibit, it was getting close to being finished. however it looked to me like they were having their usual problems with dealing with the slope of the site. that's really tarongas blessing and curse sometimes isn't it? no doubt the location is gorgeous and offers amazing views, but it is totally unsuited to large animals such as elephants and giraffes as all the enclosures must be very long and skinny to compensate for the slope. all the exhibits are carved into the hillside like terraced rice paddies or a series of giant steps. it really restricts the design of the exhibits. they often get lovely natural rock at the back of them, but no depth whatsover. essentially their all just nicely planted old hagenbeck exhibits - rock back, moat front.

    one example of this i really dislike is the gorilla exhibit. i can't stress how crappy taronga's gorilla exhibit is compared to the one at melbourne. the animals in sydney suffer from lack of privacy. they are always huddled by the door to their night den, where the public can't see them as closely. last time i was there they had extended the gorillas access into the ajecent cave-like enclosure that previously had de brazza's guenons in it. no idea what happend to those monkeys...
     
  14. Nigel

    Nigel Well-Known Member

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    Taronga park Gorilla exhibit

    I must agree with Patricks comments about most of Taronga parks enclosure designs being pretty similar to each other in the Hagenbeck style .
    Some possibilities which may help improve things for the gorrillas -- if the zoo planted a wall of bamboo along beside the pathway , and cut out small peep holes so that the public can see the gorillas , but the gorilla will find it hard to see the people , even if they can hear/smell them nearby .
    Or , have a totally enclosed tunnel with one way mirrors ?
    I think a hilly site for a zoo is more of a niusance than a blessing , unless the site is going to be used for animals that have a natural preference for hills
    If you think Taronga Zoo is steep , spare a though for Wellington Zoo -- most of it is almost cliff face !

    But back to the elephants -- does Melbourne Zoo take its male elephant for a walk after hours , or is he still considered to be too dangerous ?
     
  15. patrick

    patrick Well-Known Member

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    no walks for su....

    i'm pretty sure melbourne's bull, bong su is managed entirely using the protective contact method. this means none of the keepers are ever so much as even enter the exhibit with him, let alone allow the public unprotected contact like they would have if he was walked around the zoo. some zoo's will not even have direct contact with female elephants anymore, after all, how many keepers and elephant handlers killed by elephants every year? i subscribe to zoo news digest and there's no shortage of stories on keeprs being crushed to death. the truth is, as much as i love that the elephants get walks - i was totally supprised the zoo chose to do it during opening hours. they also sometimes allow the public to touch her. elephants can be very dangerous animals, she's a very docile elephant but i wonder why australia has such tight rules with enclosures for big cats and monkeys, yet you can keep a grown elephant, the most dangerous of all, with no restarints whasovever!

    still i am glad that they walk at least one elephant. when the new exhibit was finished mek kappah walked to her new home where as bong su was driven in a truck. i'de say thats a pretty good indication that they don't trust him out of his exhibit even after hours.

    in asia many people keep trained bull elephants. at the pinewalla oraphange in sri lanka they had at least a dozen bulls that all have direct contact with the handlers and toursists. however bull elephants go throgh a period of being on heat (called "musth"), in which time they become very dangerous and unpredicable. a common practice during this time is to chain the male to a tree and have nothing to do with him whasover. or a least give him some girlfriends and hope he get sit out of his system quickly.....
     
  16. Nigel

    Nigel Well-Known Member

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    elephant contact etc

    The Auckland zoo staff will not let anyone get close enough to have any physical contact with the elephants -- and quite often the public causes more problems than the elephants ever do ! Hence the time of elephant walks are kept secret , and are never the same route or time on any given day . This is also to prevent the elephants from getting into a boring routine -- they never know from one day to the next as to when they will have a walk somewhere

    The elephants will not go anywhere while there is a large crowd blocking the way and the keepers are very strict on that rule -- no one must touch an elephant . If the elephant wants to touch someone with their trunk , that is a different matter . But the elephants are not encouraged to do such things .

    I am very surprised that many American Zoos have African elephants , as these are more stubborn and stroppy than Asian elephants . And as for keeping African bull elephants in a ( city ) zoo , that almost defies belief !
    With the zoo news talking about keepers being injured/killed by elephants , do they state whether it was a bull or cow , Asian or African , zoo born or wild born ?
    Both Kashin and Burma are very placid elephants . If either caused any difficulty to the keepers , the walks will suddenly cease .
     
  17. patrick

    patrick Well-Known Member

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    africans vs asians

    the zoo in colombo sri lanka (might i just add here that i can believe so many of the beuatiful people and places i visted in this country have recently been swept away!, so depressing) has both asian and african elephants. they explained to me something that i have heard before. african elephants are not so much as stubborn or more difficult to train, but the respond to very differnt methods to the humble asians. africans are very sensitive, and i have heard that since people in africa have been trying differnt methods and understanding their different, they have sucessfully trained many elephants to give safari rides to tourists and the like. people so often call an elephant an elephant, africans and asian are not only different species, their different genus'! it the same as calling a deer and a cow the same thing.

    oddly, and just a little point of interest here, there is a record of a hybrid asian/african elephant being born in a zoo in the 70's. he displayed a blend of characteristics of boths species, but not supprisingly died a week or so after birth.

    i have read a circus in NZ has a young african cow. would'nt it be great to see her relocated to dubbo. unfortunately the bull at dubbo, congo, died a couple of years back and the breeding program has been abandoned.
     
  18. Nigel

    Nigel Well-Known Member

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    Auckland Zoo elephant

    about a year ago there was an incident that caught news headlines around the world -- my penpal in Texas alerted me to it --
    One of Aucklands elephants managed to get out of the enclosure , out of the zoo , and into the big wide world one night ......
    Its too bad I wasnt a fly on the wall at the elephant complex the next morning when the keepers discovered that one of the elephants had managed to go walkabout .... needless to say there was urgent calls for police to arrive to help with any unknown situation that could arrive ......
    Fortunately for all involved , the elephant was having a nice slow wander through the large parkland area called Western Springs , munching on browse as she went ( similar to Royal Park in Melbourne )
    and was in no hurry to escape as far as she could ..... but the police told the zoo in NO uncertain terms that although they cordoned off a wide perimeter around the approx position of the elephant , if she wandered onto the roads , or caused any damage to property , they wouldnt hesitate to "shoot to kill" and demanded that the zoo contain the elephant ( whatever that might take ) and take her back pronto .
    Even though the elephant was known to be placid , the police were not going to take any chances.
    The fact that the elephant did not make a decent effort to escape ( it was not known exactly how long she had "escaped ") and was quite happy to slowly wander back to the zoo ( too damn slow as far as the police were concerned ) suggests that she was just curious , rather than planning to escape .
    This is basically for Patricks information , and anyone else who has also recently joined the forum and is interesting in elephant sagas .
     
  19. Nigel

    Nigel Well-Known Member

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    recent news clippings

    A fax was recieved at my office from our Canberra office , it had a newsclipping about exchange of elephants for koalas between zoos in Australia/Thailand .
    I was not able to read it all , nor could I determine which newspaper it came from , but part of the information was so inaccurate I was surprised -- it said that the Wellington Zoo was hoping to obtain 2 elephants !!
    If anyone happened to read the same article , I can definately say that they got their zoos mixed up . Wellington Zoo has no capacity for any elephants , even if they wanted them -- the zoo is at best "hilly" , at worst , steeper than Taronga Park ( and thats really saying something )

    As there are no koalas in NZ ( but we do have feral wallabies ) I cannot offer any comment about the feasibility of sending some to Thailand . Despite their cute looks , the one close encounter that I have had with a koala suggests that they are like the kiwi , and have a bad temperament !
     
  20. patrick

    patrick Well-Known Member

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    koalas for elephants....

    hmmmm.

    swapping koalas for elephants eh? would not be at all surprised. australia is known amongst the international zoo community as being notoriously stingy with exporting their animals and as a result we have sufficiently managed to elevate the species such as the humble koala to a very much sought after and successful barganing tool.

    i expect the northern subspecies of koala could do okay in thailand. they certainly (like every other tropical or sub-tropical country) have plenty of eucalyptus trees. but still, on a more personal note, having been to thailands two biggest zoos - bangkok's dusit zoo and the chang mai zoo (which has giant pandas!) - i think they having enough difficulty caring for the animals they've got!

    besides, i wouldn't give anything to a country who is the distribution center for most of southeast asia's smuggled wildlife. have you heard about the orangs at safari world?

    but back to elephants - i have read a fair few articles on the subject and there does seem to be a bit of innacurate reporting, especially when it comes to the zoo's involved.

    i do know that a quarantine station has been built in the cocos-keeling islands for the animals and the selected 9 elephants are in pre-departure quarantine right now in thailand.

    myself? i'm still dead against it. i love looking at elephants, but not in cramped city zoos. besides, the region collectively already holds at least 6 breeding-age elephants!

    theres an idea, why don't they start their much publicised breeding program with the elephants they already have??!!!!