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For Immediate Release: 02/19/09

Herpes epidemic leads to calls for immediate ban on elephant breeding and imports in U.S. Zoos

St. Louis, MO — An epidemic of herpes virus in North American zoo elephants has led Born Free USA united with Animal Protection Institute (Born Free USA), a leading non-profit animal protection and conservation organization, to demand an immediate halt to the breeding of captive zoo elephants and an end to elephant imports. Born Free USA’s request comes after Wednesday’s announcement that two elephant calves at the St. Louis Zoo have tested positive for the disease.

“The recent incidents of elephants contracting herpes — and dying — in North American zoos is simply unacceptable,” says Adam Roberts, senior vice president of Born Free USA. “It is irresponsible and unconscionable that the zoo industry would continue its aggressive artificial insemination and breeding programs of captive elephants, when they are literally dying before our eyes.”

A number of recent zoo elephant deaths have been attributed to elephant herpes virus, the cause of which is not known. Other elephant deaths have been attributed to illnesses such as pneumonia, colic, and antibiotic-resistant staph infection — diseases that rarely occur in wild populations.

“This is the worst kind of wake-up call,” adds Roberts, “but this warning bell has been ringing for years. No one wants to see elephants die, yet zoos keep breeding them for nothing more than profit and entertainment with a ‘fingers-crossed’ approach to their survival. This does nothing to conserve wild populations or educate the public about the issues elephants face in the wild.”

Roberts concludes: “Zoos need to stop breeding and start putting their resources into real elephant conservation in the wild. They also need to dramatically raise the minimum standards under which elephants are kept in captivity so they deliver far better physical and social circumstances for this highly intelligent, social creature. Research must also be carried out to ensure that no more elephants die unnecessarily.”

Born Free USA is a leading national non-profit animal advocacy organization working to conserve and protect wildlife in the United States and globally. More information is available at www.bornfreeusa.org.


Zibby Wilder, Born Free USA, 916.267.7266, press@bornfreeusa.org

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