Tucson Elephants to get Expanded Zoo Facility

By Teresa Jun, KOLD News 13

The elephants at Reid Park Zoo will get more room to roam. Late Tuesday, the Tucson City Council voted 6-to-1, to approve a multi-million dollar plan to expand their habitat. But some animal rights activists say it's not enough.

The $8.5 million project would give Tucson's two elephants, Connie and Shaba, an extra seven acres of space in their enclosure.

Nikia Fico, with the group "Save Tucson Elephants" argues the animals need hundreds more acres to survive.

"Elephants are naturally grazing, migratory animals," Fico said.  "It's estimated they move about 18 hours a day, and when they're not allowed to move, they have a lot of physical problems."

Fico said those problems are apparent in Connie and Shaba.  "They do not seem happy at all," she said.  "I don't know how anybody could look at the head-bobbing and swaying and say that is happy.  I don't know how anybody could look at the holes in Connie's foot, and the abscesses in her toes, and say those are healthy."

Fico's group wants Connie and Shaba relocated to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee, where the animals would have hundreds and hundreds of acres to stretch their legs.  After gathering thousands of citizen signatures and presenting her case to the council, Fico is disappointed that councilors weren't convinced.

The Tucson Zoological Society defends the zoo's care of Connie and Shaba, and takes issue with claims of the elephants' poor health.  "It simply doesn't hold water," said Mike Carter, executive director of the Tucson Zoological Society.  "These animals are in great shape, they don't need to be separated or shipped."

The expansion of the elephant enclosure at Reid Park Zoo will be funded by a combination of Tucson Zoological Society fundraisers, a moderate increase in zoo entrance fees, and a possible bond measure down the road.  Construction could begin in late 2008 or 2009.