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Toledo Zoo: Finally protected contact for Louie

The review team assessing the attack by Toledo Zoo's (Ohio, US) seven year old African elephant, Louie, on his keeper July 1 does not even try to explain why this might have happened, other than to say that Mr. RedFox first entered the enclosure without a bullhook. (Toledo Zoo press release) It took this unfortunate incident to get the zoo to begin caring for Louie using protected contact.

Bullhook - often called Guide by the zoos.We hope other zoos will move away from the use of bullhooks and instead adopt protected contact which gives elephants in zoos at least some measure of autonomy and choice in their very constrained zoo lives. Read more about bullhooks in this testimony to Massachusetts legislators about the use of bullhooks on elephants. (71.9 kB)

The relationship between Mr. RedFox and Louie was not one of friendship, as the Zoo tried to argue, but one of a man trying to exert his will over that of a much larger elephant. Dominance among wild elephants is based on body size; people try to "pull rank" and to maintain control over their much larger charges by using a bullhook for backup. In our opinion that is just asking for trouble.

Elephants have incredible memories - the wiring of their brains suggest even better than our own - and they are very good at keeping score. Louie exhibited a lot of aggression toward Mr. RedFox as is documented in our letter (106 kB) sent to Toledo Zoo's Executive Director, Dr. Anne Baker. You will find an introduction to the letter, and the video showing the attack, here.