As a former zoo curator who worked with elephants for more than 30 years, I find your editorial ("Big Problem for Zoos," Nov. 30) off the mark. You cannot compare an elephant to a rhino; it's the needs of the species that count.
Elephants naturally live within large family groups and are one of the most socially complex animals outside of man. Yet in zoos they are kept either alone or with only one or two other unrelated elephants. The largest mammal on land, elephants also require a vast amount of space and exercise to prevent the foot and leg disorders that affect more than 50% of zoo elephants and are prematurely killing them. Unless elephants can be kept in a way that addresses their spatial, social and psychological needs, there is no ethical basis for keeping them in zoos.
Look at our zoos. Would you want your child to live in one? Most are outdated, both physically and mentally. Yes, we do need to teach our children about the animals, but these zoos teach children lessons they shouldn't learn, cruelty being one. I have never gotten enjoyment from watching confined animals. I enjoy watching animals doing what comes naturally and in their own environment, not one made by man. When will we learn that our treatment of animals reflects directly on our humanity, or lack of, toward man. We have many lessons to learn if we think that zoos are part of American culture.
The editorial is missing the point that elephants and other animals in zoos are not educational "exhibits" if they are living in an environment that is unnatural and stressful to the animals. There are far too many other ways, such as DVDs, video, IMAX movies and webcams online, to be educated about animals in their true environments, rather than using the old excuse that zoos are the only way to be educated about animals.