The Oregon Zoo touts the coming 6-acre Elephant Lands and its special yard with 4 feet of “extra soft” golf course sand as the answer to the chronic foot problems that plague half of all elephants in zoos.
But the $53 million facility opening next year will bring more relief to the zoo’s image than the pachyderms’ sore feet. And the Oregon Zoo knows this as well as anyone.
In 1998, the Oregon Zoo hosted an international conference bringing top veterinarians and researchers together to advance understanding of the leading cause of euthanasia in captive elephants.
The conference was organized by Blair Csuti, a biologist who was in charge of the zoo’s conservation programs from 1997-2006, when his position was eliminated as part of broader budget cuts.
Csuti, who now works for the Oregon State University Forestry Department, lives about a mile from the zoo, and he still can’t reconcile how the knowledge gleaned 16 years ago has been all but ignored.
Csuti testified last May at a Metro hearing at which Friends of the Oregon Zoo Elephants protested treatment of zoo elephants. About 40 individuals spoke—some with props and one wearing a mask—and by the time the soft-spoken PhD took his three-minute turn at the microphone, his simple but authoritative conclusion that elephants cannot live healthy lives in zoos seemed lost in the shuffle. ▶