Is Susi the elephant suffering?

Barcelona zoo unveils spectacular plans to prevent her transfer amid claims of cruelty at aging attraction

The Barcelona zoo will not let go of Susi. On the contrary, it wants to keep her at all costs, and strongly opposes a proposal to transfer her elsewhere. Zoo managers insist the elephant is in good physical and psychological shape, despite allegations to the contrary by animal rights groups such as Libera. At a press conference on Tuesday, the zoo presented a spectacular plan to improve Susi's environment, just one day before City Hall was scheduled to vote on a motion asking for the pachyderm to be sent to a French safari-zoo and for the Barcelona facilities to refrain from bringing in any new elephants.

"[The motion] is not going to pass; common sense will prevail. I don't think City Hall should be voting on these issues; these decisions are not for them to make, since they fall within the realm of science, not politics," said a defiant zoo president, Ignasi Cardelús, who is well aware that his park is controlled by the city. Cardelús said that the initiative, put forward by the nationalist republicans of ERC, was nothing more than "electioneering," adding a marvelous phrase about how elephants should not enter politics.

"These decisions fall within the realm of science, not City Hall politics"

Barcelona Mayor Jordi Hereu confirmed on Wednesday that Susi's future will be decided by scientists, not politicians, and defended the strategic need for the city to have a leading zoo. "If professionals guarantee that her conditions are good, then there is no need for debate."

Hereu and Cardelús both noted that the municipal leader of ERC, Jordi Portabella, was in fact president of the zoo when Susi arrived in 2002, yet he now leads the campaign to move her.

The new project to improve Susi's living conditions will bring about radical changes to the zoo. The presentation (which, interestingly, shows three elephants) projects 2.3 hectares of land imitating the African savannah of the Sahel (an endangered natural space the zoo is helping to conserve). A whole hectare will be reserved for the elephants, who currently have 2,000 square meters to themselves. They will share the new habitat with warthogs, Dorcas Gazelles and Mona Monkeys. Phase one of the plan will cost 2.8 million euros, and could be completed in 2012.

The pachyderms will enjoy new stables that are "much larger and better, with lots of light." They will be free to decide whether to go outside or stay in. Zoo managers underscored that they follow international guidelines and expert advice regarding elephant care at all times. They also highlighted that there are 202 African elephants - "ambassadors of their fragility" - at 55 zoos in Europe, and expressed admiration for the Cologne zoo, which has an entire elephant herd. Although Barcelona zoo representatives left the door open to increasing their own elephant numbers, they ruled out a breeding program.

Regarding Susi's health, zoo chiefs criticized "diagnoses made from the other side of the fence" based on "irrelevant evidence such as the elephant pulling faces," and insisted there is no reason to worry. These statements were made in front of Susi, who displayed her good manners by allowing her caretakers to move her this way and that. She had a colic for a while, it was reported, but has recovered fully. "She shits and she eats," the mammal coordinator, Conrad Ensenyat, explained succinctly. He then pointed to a steaming heap of manure - quod erat demonstrandum. Psychologically she is well, too, as her character is "super-stable."

But is Susi going to die? "Yes, someday she will, I can assure you of that, and if people keep saying that indefinitely, they'll end up being right in the end," added the coordinator rather pointedly. "All animals die, we all die."

But whenever death calls for Susi, zoo spokesmen asserted, she will not be stuffed.

Susi in her decrepit facilities
Susi in her decrepit facilitiesJOAN SÁNCHEZ
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