A settlement between the USDA, an East Texas elephant exhibitor, and the San Antonio Zoo last week suggests our zoo's sole remaining elephant isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Efforts to pressure the San Antonio Zoo into releasing Lucky to a sanctuary have dragged on ever since her half-acre exhibit-mate Alport died in 2007.
Last Friday, Wilbur Davenport of Maximus “Tons of Fun” LLC signed away his last remaining elephant to the San Antonio Zoo to stave off federal charges of Animal Welfare Act violations and cut a $100,000 fine down to $15,000.
While it's nice “Queenie” will soon be receiving experienced medical care away from the roadside-circus circuit, here's the rub: Queenie was a stroke away from being sent to a elephant sanctuary to live out the rest of her life away from prying eyes and access to hundreds, if not thousands, of wild acres before the zoo pounced.
It was Monday, April 12, that San Antonio resident Kerrie Kern of the Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force was negotiating a deal with Davenport to ship Queenie to one of two U.S.-based sanctuaries. One of Davenport's stipulations during that phone conference was for visitation rights, Kern said.
“He wanted visitation, a couple other different things. I told him, â??Let me work on it.'”
By the time she bagged the needed concessions from both the Performing Animal Welfare Society and The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, and called him back, he was apparently entertaining other offers.
“I called him Tuesday morning to tell him, â??Hey, we got everything that you asked for. It's set in motion, pick your place,'” Kern said. “Wednesday, he was supposed to talk to an attorney out in D.C. and he was supposed to call me back. He never called me back. Then I got word the settlement was signed on Wednesday afternoon.”
The consent decision was approved by an USDA administrative law judge on Friday.
While Davenport and San Antonio Zoo Director Steve McCusker failed to return calls for comment today, McCusker told the Current way back in 2007 that Asian elephants like Lucky and Queenie don't figure into the long-term plans of the Zoo with the "Africa Wild" expansions underway. `And that's only one of the things riling local protestors.`
If the San Anto zoo is a "less bad" outcome for the East Texas sideshow super star, a better less-bad improvement would be to reunite her with her two former colleagues, Tina and Jewel. They were seized by the USDA from Mr. Maximus last summer and shipped to the San Diego Zoo.
Even back then McCusker was prowling. “The zoo made an offer when the other two were confiscated,” Kern said. “They offered him ten grand.”
The current USDA settlement does not state if Davenport is receiving compensation for “Queenie,” so it is possible the San Antonio Zoo just picked up Davenport's USDA tab. Darn nice of 'em, if true.
Meanwhile, an online petition has been launched on Change.org and calls are rolling up to the USDA. So far, San Antonio Mayor JuliÃ¡n Castro's office has been spared, according to one employee there, but it's likely the Free Lucky contingent will be working around the clock to put him and other local leaders in the glare of the spotlight soon enough.
“This is a highly unacceptable exhibit for one elephant,” Kern said. “It's unconscionable to bring in another one.”
You can read the consent decree below: