Animal rights group claims zoo's new elephants are getting "death sentences"

LITTLE ROCK (KATV) - Two new elephants are gracing the grounds of the Little Rock Zoo after being brought in from the Niabi Zoo in Coal City, Illinois. Niabi lost their zoo accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and now the group In Defense of Animals is claiming they are just going from one bad zoo to another.

The animal rights organization based out of San Rafael, California claims the two new elephants, Sophie and Babe, just received death sentences by being sent to the Little Rock Zoo, an accredited zoo.

IDA claims the future for the two refuge elephants is bleak.

"Three elephants have died at Little Rock within about two years timeframe, and that indicates to me there's a problem," said Nicole Meyer, director of IDA's Elephant Protection Campaign. "These elephants are dying."

But Susan Altrui, spokesperson for the Little Rock Zoo says those three elephants died of old age, and mentions part of the reason the Sophie and Babe were sent to Little Rock is because of their expertise in elephant geriatric care.

"We had an elephant live to be 62, we had two others that lived to be 60," said Altrui. "We have a track record of being able to provide excellent for elephants that live well past the median life expectancy of 46 years of age."

Meyer is ultimately concerned with the lack of space the Little Rock Zoo provides for their elephants. She says there's only about a half-acre of space for the elephants to roam on, believing the elephants would be much better suited for a sanctuary than a zoo display.

"Elephants have spatial needs and in captivity, in the zoo environment such as the one in Little Rock they just don't have the space that they need in order to exercise and stay healthy," said Meyer.

The zoo's spokesperson goes on the defense again saying the zoo provides a rigorous exercise program to their elephants and also provides a great veterinary staff and healthy diet. She says those things may not be afforded to those animals in a sanctuary.

"Just having a lot of space doesn't mean that the elephant is going to use that space," said Altrui. "It's what you do in that space to encourage them to use the space."

Altrui says much of the IDA's facts are just straight up wrong. In the press release sent out by In Defense of Animals, the organization claims the zoo's most recent elephant death was caused by tuberculosis. They also say the remaining elephant, Zina may also have TB. But Altrui admits the two test positive for TB antibodies, but in no way does that mean they have an active case of tuberculosis.