MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The death of the Montgomery Zoo's 23-year-old African elephant named Mary has prompted an animal protection group to call for an end to all elephant breeding in zoos.
The group "In Defense of Animals", or IDA, is requesting the animal's veterinary records to determine if she is the latest victim in a string of deaths related to zoo-based elephant breeding.
"Only by publicly releasing [Mary's medical] records, can your zoo put to rest the questions that surround Mary's death, which appears far too coincidental, given the frequency of birth complications in captive African and Asian elephants," wrote Elliot M. Katz, DVM, IDA president, in a letter to Montgomery Zoo director Doug Goode.
WSFA 12 News spoke with Deputy Director of the Montgomery Zoo, Marcia Woodard, on Wednesday who said the zoo's records are open to the public. The zoo is planning a response to the animal group, but will wait until a complete necropsy is finalized.
Mary's preliminary cause of death was listed as complications due to colic with intestinal rupture. The Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries' Diagnostic Lab in Auburn assisted in the investigation.
Woodard told WSFA 12 News on Monday that the preliminary necropsy of the animal's remains indicated there were no connections between the birth of her calf and her death two days later.
Woodard says the group, known for it's extremist views, is welcome to see the zoo's records once finalized, but stresses that IDA is not a scientific group with the credibility to make the accusations that it's launching.
The Montgomery Zoo, accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association since 1972, says it has met strict standards set forth by the AZAA pertaining to it's elephants since the animals were first introduced to the capital city in 2004.
Woodard cites Mary's offspring as proof that the zoo is committed to the safety of it's animals, saying the male African elephant calf is being bottle-fed and is actually larger than the calf born to the zoo earlier this year.
According to IDA, since 2001 more than 16 elephant pregnancies in U.S. zoos have ended in still births or death of the mother elephant, including one earlier in 2008 at the Ft. Worth Zoo.
Katz says that "continued zoo breeding is also reckless due to the lack of adequate housing for elephants, especially males who are much more difficult to maintain in captivity due to their size, strength and periods of heightened aggression during musth. If Mary's calf, a male, survives, his prospects for a quality life under current zoo conditions are dim."
A final report on Mary's death should be completed in the next several weeks.