By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen
The death earlier this month of a 34-year-old female Asian elephant at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom has prompted a local animal rights group to call for a protest outside the park on Saturday.The elephant's death was announced on the park's Facebook page on April 10, with few details.
Janet Locke of Advocates for the Animals at Six Flags said Bertie Mae's death is indicative of the needless suffering of animals in captivity at parks like Discovery Kingdom. She and her group plan to protest from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Park spokeswoman Nancy Chan insists that park staff members love the animals in their care, treat them well and never use fear, pain or intimidation to get them to perform.
"As a professional animal facility, we abide by strict standards of animal care and welfare as mandated by state and federal laws," Chan said in a statement. "As such, we work closely with the USDA and keep them fully informed and apprised from beginning to end regarding individual animals, our facilities and our programs. The safety and well-being of our guests, animals and employees is always our highest priority."
According to reports, Bertie Mae lived at the Vallejo theme park since 2005, and had to be euthanized after consultations with elephant experts across the country caused park officials to conclude that an injury to her hind leg could not be repaired.
Asian elephants can live up to 60 years, but most die sooner, according to the Smithsonian National Zoo Website. At least one study found that elephants in captivity die even younger than either wild African elephants or working Asian elephants, according to allaboutwildlife.com.
Zoo advocates counter that "elephants currently living in zoos will have life spans approximating those living in more natural conditions," according to the site.
Bertie Mae's tissues will be shared with universities and researchers for studying elephant populations in captivity and in the wild, Chan said.
Locke says Bertie Mae is the eighth elephant to die since Six Flags took over the Vallejo park in 1999, and that her organization advocates either releasing the captive animals into the wild or finding them homes in specialized animal sanctuaries.
Advocates for the Animals at Six Flags "calls upon Six Flags to close its animal exhibits and to focus on the highly popular roller coaster rides and other non-animal entertainment at the amusement parks," the group said in a statement. "Only two out of twenty-five Six Flags properties have animals."
Locke said her group is a Bay Area-based grassroots organization formed about six months ago, dedicated to having Six Flags remove all animals from its parks.
"We are appalled and feel that eight animals is eight too many," said Locke, a Novato resident. She said she expect some 30 protesters Saturday from around the Bay Area.
"We thought the Bay Area is too progressive an area to allow a company like Six Flags to continue operating the way they do; treating animals the way they do," she said. "The death of Bertie Mae has been the impetus to get more people interested in (the organization). Someone is out protesting at the park nearly every weekend," she said.