Wild Animal Park Draws Warning on Incident Involving Elephant

Times Staff Writer

Discipline exceeding acceptable levels was applied by San Diego Wild Animal Park keepers to Dunda the elephant in February, 1988, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has concluded in a letter of warning to the Zoological Society of San Diego.

The April 6 letter said that results of an investigation by the department’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service show “repeated disciplinary measures” on Feb. 17 and 18, 1988, to the 18-year-old female African elephant “did cause bruising and damage to the skin on the elephant’s head and signs of behavioral stress.”

James W. Glosser, inspection service administrator, said that while zoos have to employ discipline to assure both the safety of animals and the public, “we must warn you that any further documented use of such excessive disciplinary measures (as occurred with Dunda) may result in legal action to secure compliance” with federal laws.


Zoological Society spokesman Jeff Jouett said Monday that its officials disagree with the letter’s conclusion.

“We stand by our own investigation and the investigations by the San Diego Humane Society, the San Diego city attorney and the American Assn. of Zoological Parks and Aquariums, which found that Dunda’s short disciplinary training sessions were not excessive and did not cause unnecessary discomfort,” Jouett said.

Zoo officials maintain that the discipline, which included chaining Dunda’s legs, pulling her to the ground and beating her on the head with ax handles for short periods, was necessary to train Dunda not to lash out and try to injure her keepers. The incident occurred shortly after Dunda was transferred to the Wild Animal Park from the San Diego Zoo, where she had spent most of her life.

Several of Dunda’s former keepers at the zoo criticized the sessions as unnecessary and brutal, but the numerous subsequent investigations produced conflicting conclusions. While the San Diego Humane Society and city attorney’s office concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone on animal cruelty charges, the Humane Society of the United States called the incident a clear case of abuse.