In early 2008, the National Elephant Center, a partnership of over 70 U.S. zoos, announced plans to create an elephant holding/breeding facility in St. Lucie County (the Center is not a sanctuary). Shortly after the first official announcement, ARFF and other animal advocates contacted county officials with our concerns. Among the animal welfare concerns about the center was its refusal to prohibit the use of bullhooks.
A bullhook is a weapon, resembling a fireplace poker, that is used to strike, hook, prod and intimidate elephants into obedience. Bullhooks are commonly used by circuses, but most U.S. zoos that have elephants have eliminated bullhooks and now rely on a safer and more humane elephant handling method that relies on positive reinforcement only.
In January 2010, when the St. Lucie County Board of County Commissioners approved the plan by the National Elephant Center, the approval came with a number of conditions, the most important being that no bullhooks would be allowed on site.
Apparently, the National Elephant Center was not willing to hang up its bullhooks.
Last week, the National Elephant Center announced that it had abandoned St. Lucie County in favor of land in the City of Fellsmere, about an hour to the north. The plans for the Center have not changed very much since 2008, but the timing of last week’s announcement was much different than three years ago. This time the Center waited until most of its permit applications had been approved before contacting the press. To keep the press and animal advocates from asking questions beforehand, the National Elephant Center created a corporation called, “Sunshine State Wildlife Conservation,” under which permits were applied for. The Center also omitted certain details from its application. For example, in the over 100 pages of site plans, technical reports, letters and emails that make up its application to obtain a permit from the St. Johns River Water Management District, the word “elephant” only appears once (in an email from an agency employee). Animal welfare issues are never addressed. The impact of elephants on the environment was not considered. We don’t think that’s wise public policy, and it’s definitely not good for elephants.
Please contact Fellsmere Mayor Susan Adams and the St. Johns River Water Management District and urge them to reopen the permit process and hold public hearings. This project is too large and too important not to allow input from the public.
Mayor Susan Adams
City of Fellsmere
Online comment form.
Kirby B. Green, III, Executive Director
St. Johns River Water Management District