02/26/2013 05:09 EST | Updated 04/28/2013 05:12 EDT

Bowmanville Zoo Elephant Transfer Blasted By Animal Rights Group


TORONTO - A California-based animal rights group is urging Canadian and American officials to deny a permit for the export of a U.S. circus elephant to a southern Ontario zoo.

Mike Hackenberger of the Bowmanville Zoo says they are trying to acquire a male Asian elephant named Colonel from the circus in Hugo, Okla., for breeding purposes.

Nicole Meyer of In Defense of Animals says her group believes the proposed transfer for breeding is a ruse, and alleges the elephant will be used for commercial purposes, in violation of the U.S. Endangered Species Act and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

Hackenberger says he already has an elephant he can use for commercial purposes and says Colonel will be used for breeding in an effort to preserve the endangered species.

He says the Bowmanville Zoo and the Calgary Zoo have entered into a an agreement to use Colonel for breeding because the Calgary Zoo's male is being transferred to Florida by its owners.

In Defense of Animals also says that the transfer could be detrimental to Colonel's health and welfare, an allegation that Hackenberger strenuously rejects.

"He's been a longtime circus elephant, so riding in a trailer is part of his daily life," Hackenberger said Tuesday.

"We have an elephant trailer specifically designed to haul elephants ... it has AirRide, it has ventilation, it has cameras inside to monitor the animals as they move."

He said the zoo also is working with a group in India to establish corridors for wildlife in an effort to reduce "elephant-human conflict."

"We have big problems with elephants and we need to have intelligent conversations to figure out how we can save a species that is absolutely moving towards extinction," Hackenberger said.

About 100,000 people visit the zoo in Bowmanville east of Toronto every year.

Animals from the zoo appear on shows on the Animal Planet network and Hackenberger said one of the zoo's tigers, Jonas, played a part in the Academy Award-winning film "Life of Pi."

"There was a total of five tigers, Jonas was one of them," he said. "You always want to have doubles when you play that game — or triples or quadruples."

Bowmanville Zoo supplied the lions for the 1996 Michael Douglas film "The Ghost and the Darkness," he added.

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