Kaohsiung’s Shoushan Zoo has said that long-time elephant caretaker Chang Yung-hsing (張永興) is to retire next year and part with an African elephant named A-li (阿里) that he has cared for over the past 39 years.
Chang was 23 when first started caring for the then-five-year-old female elephant, zoo director Chuang Hsuan-chih (莊絢智) said.
“The man and the elephant share a profound rapport,” Chuang said.
Photo courtesy of Shoushan Zoo
Now 44, A-li is one of three African elephants in Taiwan and the only one in Shoushan Zoo. The other two are in Taipei Zoo.
Shoushan Zoo officials are concerned that Chang’s retirement could depress A-li and they have been familiarizing the elephant with her new caretaker over the past three years, Chuang said.
Captive elephants can become attached to their human caretakers and losing familiar caretakers can cause elephants to become depressed and refuse to eat until they starve to death, Chuang said.
“We hope to gradually reduce A-li’s emotional dependence on Chang,” she added.
A-li’s caretaker-in-waiting, Pai Po-yuan (白博元), said that although he has been Chang’s assistant for three years, the elephant has not entirely warmed up to him.
Although A-li understands that he is Chang’s occasional substitute, the staff still have to keep the elephant behind safety barriers when he cleans the enclosure or brings her food, Pai said.
“If I make a wrong move, my life could be in danger,” he said, adding that the situation is still an improvement over when A-li was throwing stones and dung at him.
National Dong Hwa University environmental science professor Kurtis Pei (裴家騏) has urged Shoushan Zoo to let A-li live with the elephants in Taipei Zoo as a humane alternative to solitude.
All three of the nation’s African elephants are females, which are naturally social, and it is inhumane to make A-li live without companionship, the Chinese-language Apple Daily quoted Pei as saying.
Taipei and Kaohsiung city officials said they agree that it would be preferable to let the elephants live together, but the elephants might not get along, as they are territorial and might resist being moved, the newspaper said.
Kaohsiung Tourism Bureau Director Tseng Tzu-wen (曾姿雯) said the bureau is interested in protecting the welfare of zoo animals and is willing to discuss the issue with Taipei Zoo, the newspaper said.
Taipei Zoo spokesman Chin Shih-chien (金士謙) said that the elephants at the zoo have lived together for decades and might not accept A-li, but the proposal has a lot of merit and deserves serious consideration, it said.
“No matter how difficult, this is an issue that is worth our colleagues at Shoushan and us expending some effort and trying to find a solution,” he was quoted as saying.
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