Springfield zoo evaluates its elephant program

SPRINGFIELD (AP) — A southwest Missouri zoo is evaluating its elephant program following the death of a zookeeper and nationwide changes in how the industry is caring for the animals.

The Springfield News-Leader reports that a 41-year-old female named Patience remains out of the view of visitors to the Dickerson Park Zoo more than a month after she knocked elephant manager John Bradford to the ground as he leaned in between the bars. He was killed immediately.

Staff hasn’t determined whether Patience will return to the public eye.

“We’re not sure at this point what the structure is going to be,” Zoo Director Mike Crocker said in a recent interview. “We’re having to do a lot of evaluating of our program, our numbers — where we’re going to go from here.”

Nationally, elephant programs are in flux. Facing continued pressure from animal rights groups and increased regulations, some zoos are spending tens of millions of dollars on high-profile expansions of their elephant exhibits. Other programs are being shuttered completely.

One issue is that elephants in captivity are dying faster than they’re being replaced. And breeding programs, including a once prominent one at the Dickerson Park Zoo, have struggled to deal with a virus that kills young elephants.

“With declining populations of elephants, a lot of zoos will go out of the elephant business, just because there won’t be any elephants to be gotten over the next 10 to 20 years,” said Crocker, who has been director since 1988.

He said any decisions about the future of the zoo’s program would be made with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

He added that he believes allowing individuals to see elephants in zoos ultimately benefits those not being held in captivity.

“Those kinds of experiences have probably done a lot to further interest and concern for their wild counterparts,” Crocker said.

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Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com

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