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OFF THE MOMMY TRACK

Reid Park Zoo boss Susan Basford announced last week that the zoo had given up on the idea of breeding Shaba, the 26-year-old African elephant.

Basford had floated the idea of breeding Shaba last year. At the time, the zoo crew said that if Shaba were going to have a baby, she'd better do it soon. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association is encouraging zoos to breed captive elephants to increase their numbers.

Basford--who has suggested that a baby elephant would be a big boost for zoo attendance--teamed up with the Tucson Zoological Society to use the possibility of a third elephant as part of the justification to expand the zoo by eight acres, including a three-acre elephant exhibit. Connie and Shaba now live in a half-acre pen, which doesn't give the elephants much room to roam.

Now Basford says that, having taken a look at the success rates for breeding elephants of Shaba's age, it's probably not such a hot idea.

"First-time older elephant moms have more likelihood of a difficult pregnancy," says Basford. "We've been keeping our eye on some older first-time moms around the country, and the success rate has been fairly low. In our case, we've got a great team of people with lots of experience in caring for elephants, but pretty much no experience in managing a pregnancy. So it just didn't seem responsible to proceed with that idea."

Nikia Fico, the UA law student pushing for the council to send Connie and Shaba to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee (check out "Pachyderm Push," Feb. 16, for details), says she's glad that Shaba won't have to undergo the invasive procedures that go along with artificial insemination, which have included hour-long enemas and rectal exams.

Fico, who heads up the organization Save Tucson Elephants, says even a three-acre exhibit won't be enough for Connie and Shaba to live healthy lives. She suggests that if the city is going to spend $8.5 million expanding the zoo, it should work on building larger enclosures for other critters.

Basford says the city should move forward with the expansion and try to find a third elephant to join Connie and Shaba. Given that Connie is now 39 years old, she could be nearing the end of her life. "We would not want to be left with a solitary animal," Basford says.

The push for more elephants comes as zoos around the country are shutting down elephant exhibits or canceling expansion plans, because they don't have the resources necessary to take care of such enormous animals.

The Tucson Zoological Society has offered to pick up some of the tab for expanding the zoo, according to Basford. The organization, which is now raising $4 million for a conservation-learning center, has proposed rolling that effort into the $8.5 million expansion and contributing $6.25 million. That means the city would only have to pick up $6.25 million.

City staff is expected to propose a financing scheme as part of an overall parks plan in mid-April. In the meantime, activists from Save Tucson Elephants continue to gather signatures and speak out at council meetings, urging council members to consider the offer to transfer the elephants to the 2,700-acre Tennessee sanctuary, where they could join larger herds and have more space to roam.


WI-FI CITY

City Councilman Steve Leal wants Tucson to follow the lead of cities such as San Francisco and Philadelphia by providing free wireless Internet service to citizens.

"Wi-Fi needs to be viewed more as a right than simply another consumer choice," Leal wrote in a recent memo to his colleagues.

Leal, who had previously pushed to establish free Wi-Fi on some city buses, wants to use Back to Basics money to set up a pilot program at the Quincie Douglas Center as a first step toward citywide Wi-Fi.

Cable and phone companies, who charge households about $40 a month to provide high-speed Internet access, aren't likely to be too happy with the proposal. They've fought similar ideas across the nation and are trying to persuade the U.S. Congress to ban free Wi-Fi. The telecom industry has already succeeded in persuading some states to prevent local communities from competing with the private sector


SHRINKING STREAM

The city's grab for more than a billion bucks of state sales taxes got slightly disrupted last week when the bill allowing a 30-year extension of Rio Nuevo got amended.

State Sen. Barbara Leff, a Republican from Paradise Valley who chairs the Commerce Committee where the bill was bottled up, insisted on changes that will reduce the amount of money available from the tax-increment financing by more than $100 million, at the very least.

The city can thank former Councilwoman Kathleen Dunbar for "briefing" Leff, a longtime pal, on Rio Nuevo's progress. Dunbar says she wasn't out to torpedo the effort, but to merely provide a fair and balanced review.

The legislation still faces an uncertain future in the Senate. Sounds like Tucson officials had better be careful what bills they support and oppose until Rio Nuevo makes it clear of the Legislature and gets signed by Gov. Janet Napolitano.


LET'S MAKE A DEAL

Tensions between Gov. Janet Napolitano and the GOP leadership have been strained since the end of last session, when Napolitano vetoed a plan to create a tuition tax-credit program that would allow companies to get tax breaks for contributing to scholarship funds for private schools. The program was capped at $5 million a year.

Republican lawmakers said Napolitano promised, as part of the budget deal, that she'd sign the bill, which was staunchly opposed by Democrats in the Legislature and education groups. Napolitano said lawmakers had reneged on their promise that the program would end in five years.

Hostilities got so bad that GOP leaders printed up T-shirts that read: "She lied." They've been grumbling ever since that they could no longer trust the governor, which is promising to make this year's budget negotiations unpleasant for both sides.

Lawmakers passed another tuition-tax-credit plan that included the five-year sunset during the first week of the session this year, but Napolitano vetoed it, saying it needed to be part of this year's budget negotiations.

Lawmakers weren't giving up. They passed yet another version of the plan on March 9, but didn't transmit the bill to Napolitano until last Monday, March 27. The delay suggests there were hush-hush negotiations over the legislation with Napolitano.

It looks to us like she's finally going to cave on the issue and allow the bill to go into law, although it might happen without her signature. GOP leaders say that move would go a long way toward making this year's budget talks possible.


MISTAKES WERE MADE

The Skinny was so excited about Democrat Paula Aboud's state Senate campaign that we prematurely burst forth last week with the news that she had formally launched her run at the Democrats of Greater Tucson. Aboud, who was appointed by the Pima County Board of Supervisors to the seat vacated by Democrat Gabby Giffords (who is now running for the congressional seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Jim Kolbe) actually announced earlier this week, not last week. She's expected to face fellow Democrat Ted Downing, who now represents midtown Tucson's District 28 in the House of Representatives, in the September primary.

More by Jim Nintzel

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