The homes of three San Diego Wild Animal Park elephant keepers were vandalized and members of the underground Animal Liberation Front on Friday claimed responsibility for the attacks and said they were in retaliation for the beating of Dunda the elephant.
The activists painted slogans on the homes between 11 p.m. Thursday and 5 a.m. Friday and doused the trainers’ cars with paint stripper and red paint. The sidewalk in front of one of the trainer’s homes bore the words “Dunda’s Revenge!” and “No Excuse For Animal Abuse” painted in foot-high red letters.
“We are outraged that the victims and their families have been terrorized in such a manner,” Douglas Myers, executive director of the Zoological Society of San Diego, said in a written statement. “Personally attacking our employees is purely reprehensible.”
Television personality Bob Barker, a vocal animal rights activist, said Friday he was not involved in the vandalism, but agreed to allow his name to be used on a press release announcing ALF’s demands, which include the firing of the keepers involved in the incident and the cessation of the practice of beating elephants.
Barker said the ALF actions were sparked by newspaper stories about the beating of Dunda and called the elephant’s beating “just more animal cruelty in entertainment.” In the past, Barker said, the group, whose members are anonymous, has concentrated its efforts on protesting the use of animals in medical experiments.
“They decided for the first time to enter into battle to protect animals in entertainment,” Barker said. The red paint used on the cars and homes “represented the blood Dunda spilled,” he said.
Dunda, an 18-year old African elephant, was transferred last February from the San Diego Zoo, where she had spent most of her life, to the Wild Animal Park on the outskirts of the city, where she was to become part of a breeding herd.
At the park, five keepers chained her by all four legs, pulled her to the ground and beat her on the head with ax handles during several sessions over two days, but keepers said the discipline was necessary because Dunda was dangerously out of control. Complaints by Dunda’s former keepers at the zoo that the beatings were unnecessarily brutal led to a bitter controversy over the matter.
“I do not believe that type of discipline is acceptable to the American public,” Barker said, adding that he has “absolutely no criticism” of the animal rights group’s tactics. “They are certainly breaking the law for a good cause,” Barker said.
The trainers who were targeted in what the animal rights group called “raids” were Alan Roocroft, the supervisor in charge of elephants at the Wild Animal Park, and Louis Bisconti and Pat Humphreys, who work under Roocroft. Serious damage was done to four vehicles owned by Roocroft and Humphreys, according to a police spokesman in Escondido, where both men live with their families. Slogans also were painted on fences at one of the homes, the spokesman said.
The damage to a house in the Normal Heights neighborhood of San Diego, where Bisconti lives, included painted slogans and the letters ALF etched in a front window, apparently with acid. Bill Robinson, a spokesman for the San Diego Police Department, said no arrests have been made and there are no identified suspects.
The vandals made their claim in a telephone call early Friday to Nancy Burnet, director of the Coalition to Protect Animals in Entertainment, in Riverside.
Burnet said in a telephone interview that the caller identified himself as a member of the Animal Liberation Front and demanded the firing of “those responsible for beating Dunda,” Burnet said. “Until that happens, they’re going to continue their nonviolent direct action campaign,” she said. The caller added that the group’s action was “motivated by the fact that there have been no animal cruelty charges pressed against those responsible for the beating.”