Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Ft. Worth Zoo's CEO getting a bit testy. Why?

I received a National Action Alert about the elephants dying at the Ft. Worth Zoo, asking us to write a letter regarding the Elephant Breeding Program at the Ft. Worth Zoo. The correspondence below. Big shots at the top of organizations who respond to their customers and City taxpayers in the way that this guys does, really bothers me which is why I do not work for them in "Corporate America" anymore, nor will I support them or their organizations in my life now when I find out that they are snippy, and defensive like Mr. Fouraker is in the responses below. Plus "I" did not accuse him of anything, my first email was "asking" if the statements were true. Defensiveness is always a red flag to me in dealing with people not wanting to answer questions about their practices. BTW, did you know that "The City of Fort Worth taxpayers subsidize 15 percent of the Zoo's operating budget?" (Source: Our Zoo Our Challenge Annual Fund Campaign) I'll get back to this later.

Dear Mr. Fouraker, Executive Director of Ft. Worth Zoo , It is my understanding that there was tragedy on January 24 at the Ft. Worth zoo with the death of the Asian elephant Babe and her calf while Babe was attempting to give birth. This is the latest example of the suffering incurred as part of the Fort Worth Zoo's failed elephant-breeding program. Babe had previously had three unsuccessful pregnancies, including the birth of a still-born calf. In 2003, the elephant Rasha gave birth prematurely to a calf who subsequently had to be euthanized. Another elephant lost three calves in six years. Is the above statement true and if so, why are you continuing this program? Will you consider putting the welfare of the zoo's elephants above money by permanently closing the elephant exhibit and sending the zoo's elephants to a sanctuary where they would have hundreds of acres of natural habitat to roam, ponds to bathe in, fresh vegetation and foraging opportunities, and the company of many other elephants? 14 zoos in the U.S. have closed or plan to close their elephant exhibits—citing an inability to provide proper care— Fort Worth should join this progressive trend. I placed a call to your office early this morning, was told you were in a staff meeting and would return my call. I just placed another call (3:30pm) to your office and was told you were off of zoo property. I would really appreciate you providing answers to my questions above ASAP.

A very concerned Fort Worth taxpayer.

Ms. Watkins, No, despite what you are being led to believe by the animal rights group that has given you this information, the below paragraph is not true. The issue we focus on is the survival of elephants globally, not money, and the Fort Worth Zoological Association is a proud leader of these efforts. You are being misled as to a trend of Zoos and elephants. Many of the zoos that are not housing elephants today have sent their elephants to facilities such as ours to develop breeding herds to ensure that elephants have a future on this planet. Yes the Fort Worth Zoo did suffer a tragic loss of one of our most treasured creatures. Unfortunately, animal rights groups like the one you have received information from, are encouraging animal lovers such as yourself to confront the zoo with this inaccurate information. We cannot respond to everyone who calls falsely making accusations. We appreciate your concern for elephants. If you would like to do something to save elephants worldwide, go to and consider a contribution that will benefit their welfare for generations to come.

Michael Fouraker

Executive DirectorFort Worth Zoological Association

President International Elephant Foundation

Mr. Fouraker - Thank you for your reply. The tragic loss of Babe saddens me greatly. There were no answers to the following accusations:

1. Babe had previously had three unsuccessful pregnancies, including the birth of a still-born calf.

2. In 2003, the elephant Rasha gave birth prematurely to a calf who subsequently had to be euthanized.

3. Another elephant lost three calves in six years. Are these 3 accusations true? Also, have there been any successful pregnancies and births with your elephant breeding program? Thank you in advance.

Ms. Watkins,

I politely attempted to answer your false accusations yesterday. To be specific to your questions below, 1) yes, the Star Telegram reported this information accurately. 2) No, Rasha has never had a calf that was euthanized, her calf is Bluebonnet and you may visit her at the Zoo. 3) No, this statement has no accuracies to it at all. I hope this answers your questions as I do not intend to discuss these false allegations any further.

M. Fouraker

Mr. Fouraker -

Yesterday you succeeded in "politely" answering one of the accusations made on your elephant breeding program. Today you answered the other three. I appreciate your time, as do others. Sounds like this was an inconvenience for you. It always amazes me when persons of authority, especially "Executives" don't want to really invest much time in answering direct questions and/or get a bit "testy" when those questions concern their organizational practices. Hopefully the few minutes that you spent in answering these disturbing accusations hasn't disrupted any operations of the Zoo. I will remember your comments and attitude in my conversations about the Ft. Worth Zoo from this day forward as I feel that being you are the "Executive Director of the Fort Worth Zoo," you should be more than willing and happy to put to rest false accusations regardless of the minutes that it takes of your precious time. It's part of your job as Executive Director!

Not so respectfully,


I am so sorry for taking so long to respond to your email. Thanks very much for continuing to correspond with Mr. Fouraker and for forwarding this response to us.

I am stunned that he is denying that in 2003, Rasha had a calf who was born prematurely and subsequently euthanized. Please see the article I copied below titled “Premature elephant calf is euthanized.” Mr. Fouraker was director of the zoo at that time so it’s hard to believe that he could have forgotten that tragic event.

Re: the elephant who lost three calves in six years. PETA got this information from

Lisa Wathne Captive Exotic Animal Specialist

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Posted on Tue, Sep. 23, 2003
Premature elephant calf is euthanized By Chris Vaughn Star-Telegram Staff Writer

FORT WORTH - All seemed to be going well with Rasha's much-ballyhooed pregnancy, virtually a repeat of five years ago when she gave birth to Bluebonnet.
But Rasha, a 30-year-old Asian elephant at the Fort Worth Zoo, went into labor Friday morning, 16 months into her pregnancy and six months before her due date.
Rasha's calf, which received round-the-clock care in a makeshift ICU this weekend, was euthanized Sunday evening by veterinarians who decided that she could not survive.
"As a group of veterinarians, we were confident in our medical decision," said Nancy Lung, the zoo's chief veterinarian. "For all the other reasons, it made it difficult to euthanize. It's easy to get attached very quickly."
The death of the calf, the second failed pregnancy of an Asian elephant at the zoo in the last 18 months, again highlighted the difficulties of breeding in captivity. Babe, one of the zoo's four adult cows, gave birth to a stillborn calf in March 2002.
No Asian elephants were born in 2002 or have been born this year at institutions accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, a birth rate so slow that it threatens the viability of the species in captivity, according to zoo experts.
Robert Wiese, director of animal collections, estimated that if the birth rate continues, there will be only 13 female elephants in U.S. zoos in 50 years. Breeding success among African elephants is even lower.
"Thirty years ago, if we needed more elephants we just went to India and got them," said Ron Surratt, mammal curator at the zoo. "We don't like to do that anymore. We're trying to be self-sustaining."
Some animal groups oppose elephant breeding programs, but Fort Worth Zoo Director Michael Fouraker, who is a leader in the International Elephant Foundation, said that the zoo's efforts will continue.
"The Fort Worth Zoo has had Asian elephants for over 70 years. We've been breeding for only eight years," Fouraker said. "So we're not discouraged."
Despite the problems this weekend, Rasha is fine and out on exhibit, showing no signs of physical or maternal separation problems, Surratt and Lung said.
Rasha's keepers had detected falling progesterone levels about a week ago, a sign that labor is imminent. Because her body did the same with Bluebonnet, it wasn't expected to be a problem.
But Rasha surprised everyone by delivering her calf Friday morning. Even more surprising, the calf was alive.
"We couldn't believe when we saw her blink," Lung said.
The calf weighed 150 pounds, 100 pounds lighter than a full-term calf, and it was apparent that her organs, immune system and bones weren't fully developed. The human equivalent would be a baby born at 28-29 weeks.
Lung and the zoo's two other veterinarians consulted with doctors at Texas A&M University and brought in a prominent neonatal equine expert, Pamela Wilkins from the University of Pennsylvania.
Never had any zoo had a chance to save a 6-month premature elephant calf. But the problems were too many, Wilkins said.
"She responded to our treatments for individual problems," Wilkins said. "But her prematurity and the infection and the other problems collectively became a much bigger issue than any of the problems were individually."
Samples of her tissues and organs that were collected from a necropsy will be sent to researchers around the nation. Lung said her staff hopes, through tests on Rasha's placenta, to determine what triggered the early labor.
"We need to because we would like to breed her again," she said. "We may be able to prevent it next time."
Chris Vaughn, (817) 390-7547

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