Guest Commentary

With Bob Barker's help, the Tucson City Council can keep Connie and Shaba together

Celebrated television personality and animal-welfare activist Bob Barker is going to "come on down" for Connie and Shaba so that Tucson's beloved elephants can remain together—but will the City Council join him?

On a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, both the Reid Park Zoo and San Diego Zoo have refused to find a way to keep them together—and believe us, we've asked.

Aside from those zoos, no other accredited facility that houses African and Asian elephants together is remotely suitable for Connie and Shaba due to a small exhibit size, the use of bull hooks or requirements that elephants give rides and perform circus tricks. This speaks strongly to their so-called "rigorous" standards. Forced to reach beyond that system, we approached PAWS (the Performing Animal Welfare Society), which has agreed to provide sanctuary for Connie and Shaba—together—when no one else has.

The folks at PAWS know, as so many do, that their 30-year bond trumps all. Located in San Andreas, Calif., "PAWS can provide them with the nurturing care and space they deserve. Plans include a spacious barn and an expansive natural habitat designed exclusively for them," says Barker, who is contributing $500,000 in matching funds toward the cost of construction.

Now, Connie and Shaba's future is truly in the hands of City Council members, who can vote to send them to PAWS.

If four of them can summon the courage to take a stand and find it in their conscience to make the right decision, Connie and Shaba will never be at risk of being separated or transferred again. When Connie passes, Shaba would be integrated with PAWS' African herd, an easier transition on such expansive acreage, compared to the close quarters at the Reid Park Zoo's new elephant exhibit.

PAWS' director and founder have more than 75 years of experience between them. The organization employs 17 keepers for nine elephants, and the dedicated staff monitors the elephants 24/7. Neither the Reid Park Zoo nor San Diego Zoo can offer this. PAWS is also renowned for its progressive foot and joint treatment for arthritic elephants.

Our proposal requests that the City Council allow Connie and Shaba to stay six more months in their current exhibit so the community can raise the remainder of the required funds ($500,000), and construction can be completed at PAWS. This is a relative bargain considering the cost of care per elephant ranges from $75,000 to $130,000 a year, and considering that the Reid Park Zoo's new elephant exhibit cost more than $10 million, and has far less space and fewer amenities. The city of Tucson has agreed to give $400,000 a year to Reid Park Zoo for the maintenance of the new elephants. Connie and Shaba's longtime residence is a walk from the new exhibit and will not impact the incoming elephant herd.

The Reid Park Zoo and San Diego Zoo have made a commitment to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and to the breeding of captive elephants, but the city of Tucson has a commitment to Connie and Shaba. Connie has served our city for 42 years, since the age of 2, while languishing on a third of an acre. Shaba has been here 30 years. Let's give them a peaceful and dignified retirement together.

Please send letters of support to the City Council at We have an opportunity to unite and send a powerful message that Connie and Shaba's future should not be dictated by a "recommendation."

This is not about us versus them. This is about Connie and Shaba. That's what it should always come back to. The act of moving and transitioning anywhere will be incredibly difficult, and they should face this challenge together. This is about their safety, and their physical and psychological well-being, which are intricately tied to their 30-year bond. And nothing—nothing—can replace it.

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