Why Is An Elephant In Barcelona "Depressed"?

How do you know an animal is depressed? The elephant Susi (pictured), has lived in the Barcelona Zoo for years. Lately? She’s “apathetic, her trunk hangs on the ground and she’s eating her own excrement.”

The question is: Why? According to Time magazine, organizations Libera and the Foundation for the Adoption, Sponsorship and Defense of Animals (FAADA) believe Susi needs to be out of the zoo, and in a safari-type situation where she would have more space and would be able to join a herd. José Saramago, the Nobel Prize–winning Portuguese novelist, wrote that Susi needs a “dignified” life, because she is “dying of sorrow.”

But the director of the Barcelona Zoo, Miquel Trepat, says: “If you’re a patient, the person whose diagnosis you’re going to trust is the doctor treating you. And in this case, our veterinarians and technicians – the people who deal with Susi every day — say that she’s in a perfect state of health.” But he adds: “Susi’s behavior hasn’t changed since Alicia died.”

Alica, an elephant a few years older than Susi, died in February 2008. Alicia and Susi shared space at the zoo for years. Was Alicia’s death a blow that Susi is still dealing with? Does Susi just need more time to grieve? Is she pondering her own mortality?

Or, as Time‘s Lisa Abend asks: “Is Susi a pawn in a larger war?” Barcelona is currently renovating its 117-year-old zoo. Trepat says: “We’re transforming ourselves from the traditional, cage-based zoo to a modern conservation center that teaches respect for biodiversity.” But that still means animals living in captivity. Does Susi represent the dangers of unnatural habitats? Or would she be mourning her friend, even in the wild?

While Barcelona deals with the two sides of Susi’s story, there are two differing views on the treatment of elephants here in the U.S. — regarding the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The company has been accused of abusing elephants, and a ruling in that lawsuit is expected soon. Kenneth Feld, producer of the circus, claims that all of the animals are “in really great health.” But Tom Rider, who worked as an elephant barn man for Ringling Bros. from 1997 to 1999, says: “I call it daily, systematic abuse.” He adds: “It wasn’t just one or two people. It was every handler at Ringling that held a bull hook.”

If You Knew Susi: Barcelona’s ‘Sad Elephant’ Flap [Time]
Circus Elephants In The Legal Spotlight [Today Show]
Related: Circus Captivity Is Beastly For Wild Animals

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