The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU professor Susanne Scholz in the West Bank in 2018.
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Comedian Lily Tomlin, Concerned Citizens for Jenny want Dallas Zoo elephant transferred to Tennessee sanctuary

Jenny is a 32-year-old African elephant. Elephants like Jenny have a natural lifespan of 70-80 years in the wild.

But Jenny doesn’t live in the wild. Instead, Jenny has called Dallas Zoo her home for 22 years.

Zoos have been show to shorten an elephant’s lifespan to 33-34 years. This is caused by many factors, including a lack of space. In addition to habitation problems, post-traumatic stress disorder has caused psychological problems for Jenny.

Comedian Lily Tomlin visited the Dallas City Council on Wednesday morning to speak with members about Jenny.

Tomlin called the visit “demoralizing,” saying that the council did not pay attention to her speech on Jenny. In fact the only thing, Tomlin said, that got their attention was when she said, “the word zoo is elephant speak for Guantanamo.”

Members of the Concerned Citizens for Jenny and Tomlin came together on Wednesday evening in the Fondren Science building to promote awareness of Jenny’s situation and to persuade others to join in the movement to save the elephant.

For them, the best option for Jenny would be a transfer to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, which is one of two sanctuaries in the United States.

“The main objective is get Jenny to the sanctuary,” Tomlin said, “so we can salvage the rest of her life.”

Both Tomlin and Margaret Morin, founder of Concerned Citizens for Jenny, spoke about the problems elephants face in captivity during the SMU presentation.

Jenny first came to the Dallas Zoo in 1986 when she was 10. Before that, at age 2, Morin believes Jenny witnessed the murder of her mother and family. Morin said this happens because the elder elephants don’t allow baby elephants to be taken away.

Jenny was then taken to an animal trainer, who Morin described as one of the most brutal. The trainer used a method known as “Learned Helplessness” to train Jenny. Morin said this method was used to tell Jenny that she “had no control of [her] life. [She] was a prisoner of war, and that [she] was at [the trainer’s] mercy.”

“It’s horrible what they call ‘training’,” Morin said. “It’s torture.”

Morin said Jenny was donated to the Dallas Zoo after another elephant gored the trainer.

Jenny has been confined to less than 1/3 of an acre while at the Dallas Zoo.

Morin said this lack of space has cause physical problems for Jenny because she has not been able to walk around. Morin explained that elephants are designed to walk 30-40 miles every day, in addition to running, swimming and digging. Jenny’s habitat prohibits her from doing so.

Another health issue for Jenny is foot abscesses. Compacted earth in Jenny’s habitat combined with the stress of Jenny’s weight causes these problems. Morin said abscesses are the leading cause of death in zoo elephants and are very painful for the elephants.

Psychologically, Jenny has been affected by the murder of her mother and family, her training, and the death of her companion elephants Moja and KeKe.

Morin explained elephants are naturally sociable creatures who needed physical contact with other elephants to be emotionally healthy.

Morin also said elephants are one of three groups of animals that have the same feelings and emotions as humans. The others are dolphins and gorillas.

“Anything you can think or feel, Jenny can too,” she said, noting that Jenny has been seen weeping tears.

Morin called Jenny the “poster child for post traumatic stress disorder.” She said evidence of this could be seen in Jenny’s behavior.

The elephant has been videotaped moving from side to side, a documented sign of depression in elephants. In addition, Jenny self mutilates by pressing her tusks into her back legs and banging her head against steel bars in her exhibit.

Zoo workers have had to file down her tusks and replace broken cables because of this. Workers have also used acepromazine for months or weeks at a time to chemically restrain Jenny. During one single period, Jenny was drugged for five years until the United States Department of Agriculture stepped in to stop it.

Morin said the zoo is unable to deal with Jenny’s problems, “They don’t have a good plan.”

The zoo announced a new $10 million, 4-acre habitat for Jenny in August after plans to send her to a drive-through zoo in Mexico were met with about 20,000 protest calls. But Morin said the proposed habitat would not solve Jenny’s need for space or adequate treatment.

The best option for Jenny, according to Morin, is an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee that is equipped to treat her both physically and psychologically.

Morin said the 2,700-acre sanctuary would provide Jenny with enough space to roam freely and much-needed social interaction. The sanctuary is also home to several elephant experts who could help treat Jenny.

Tomlin and Morin noted that many zoos are getting rid of elephant exhibits because of the physical and psychological effects. But according to Morin, the Dallas Zoo is unwilling to transfer Jenny to a sanctuary because it would interfere with rules set forth by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The rules make it impossible to transfer animals to any location that isn’t under the AZA banner.

The Elephant Sanctuary cannot be a member of the AZA because it is not a zoo.

“It’s a catch-22 situation,” Tomlin said.

This does not deter Tomlin or the Concerned Citizens for Jenny, who are exploring other avenues for saving Jenny. They estimate it would take $240,000 to try to find a legal solution for saving Jenny. Tomlin will be performing a benefit concert today at Addison Improv in an effort to kickstart the fundraising.

In addition, Morin and Tomlin urged attendants to call Dallas, state and federal officials and advocate for Jenny’s retirement.

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