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Herd, zoos shun elephant with troubled past

Ostracized by her herd, La Petite is looking to pack her trunk and move to a new home.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ostracized by her herd, La Petite is looking to pack her trunk and move to a new home.

The 19-year-old elephant with a checkered past — she killed her first baby and is suspected of killing a handler — failed to fit in at a British zoo, and now is having trouble at an Israeli safari park.

Until she can be moved, the former circus performer is isolated from the park's other elephants, and animal rights activists are up in arms.

La Petite landed at the safari park in Ramat Gan in 2001 after being blamed for the death of a British trainer. Curators at the park hoped she would assimilate into their herd and breed.

For four years, La Petite did well. But shortly after giving birth, she killed her calf.

After that, the herd shunned La Petite. She attempted to rejoin the group, but a younger female elephant attacked her. In July, curators separated her from the other animals and started searching for yet another new home.

La Petite is restricted to a few stalls in the safari park's barn complex. While other elephants roam the park's spacious land during the day, La Petite is kept separated.

Safari park curator Amelia Terkil said the elephant is not violent.

"She had an unfortunate experience in a previous zoo ... a bad day in which the keeper was alone in the house with her. Nobody knows exactly what happened but the keeper was found dead," Terkil said. "It's possible one of the other elephants (in the enclosure) might have done it, but they attributed it to her. We could take her because we do not handle our elephants."

Still in limbo
Animal rights activists are frustrated that, after four months of isolation, La Petite is still in limbo.

Gadi Vitner of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Tel Aviv said his group tried to arrange for a Tennessee wildlife refuge with other Asian elephants to take her.

"They are very social animals that should be with their families," Vitner said. "They don't like to be alone."

Safari officials didn't send La Petite to Tennessee because Asian elephants are an endangered species, and moving her to a zoo would give her another chance to breed. The World Wildlife Fund estimates fewer than 35,000 Asian elephants exist in the wild today.

Safari officials think they have found La Petite a suitable home at the Pont Scorff Zoo in northern France, which has pledged to create a new herd for her with another breeding male and an older, non-breeding female.

But until the paperwork is finalized and a transportation crate is built, La Petite continues to live in exile.