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Reader responses from washingtoncitypaper.com

Subject: “Raging Bull,” Angela Valdez’s story last week about the turbulent adolescence of Kandula, an elephant at the National Zoo

Male elephants have it the worst of all elephants in zoos today. Few exhibits are large enough for these magnificent animals, who can walk tens of miles in the wild. Since eventually they have to be separated from females, the males live out sad lives isolated in tiny enclosures.

Kandula’s so-called virility has no importance to Asian elephants in the wild, since his sperm will be used to breed more elephants for zoos, not to be set free in Asia.

And Kandula’s growing assertiveness is not the same as the aggression shown by wild elephants orphaned by culls— he’s simply testing his growing strength. (We haven’t seen anything yet—wait until he goes into musth.)

What Kandula does share with orphaned wild elephants is that he is growing up without older male elephants to guide him. Elephants learn most of what they know from their families. Without older male elephants, Kandula is growing up without knowing how to be a mature bull elephant.

Zoos say they are perpetuating the species, but what they’re really doing is producing dysfunctional animals who sacrifice their lives to be so-called “ambassadors.” Perhaps all the millions that go into zoos would be better spent on real conservation—finding ways to preserve animals and their habitats in the wild.

Comment by Amy, March 28, 2008, at 10:18 a.m.

Kandula’s growing assertiveness is due to a very natural biological progression—he is slowly maturing. What is unnatural about this phase in his life are the responses and attitudes of the National Zoo to this process. I take exception to their many references that Kandula is a typical “teenager”. He is far from being a teenager at 6 years of age. The semantics that are being used here confuse the reader into thinking that this very young elephant is physically and psychologically older than he is.

In the wild it would likely be several decades before he would have reached a cultural & biological status within the wild bull elephant population that would allow him even the opportunity to finally successfully breed a female. Unlike in human populations, within the wild elephant population the ability to biologically breed does not assure a male elephant a mating possibility. Female elephants in the wild choose their mates based on a complicated process that includes the ranking of a particular bull elephants’ status within the group of bulls in that area. In order to attain such status within a group of bull elephants, young bulls learn by observation of older bulls and testing of their strengths. Kandula is not receiving any of this feedback or very important training. He is a captive male elephant with no role models to learn from.

Let’s not be fooled here. Kandula is being “trained” for breeding of more captive elephants. Baby elephants at zoos mean a chart uptick at the gate. More money coming in, more money for salaries and multi-million dollar exhibits that do nothing for the animals that are confined there, but rather are geared toward a more enjoyable afternoon of fun for the zoo visitor…..

The National Zoo has the ability to show true leadership within the industry by providing a more natural environment for all their elephants to live in at their Front Royal property. There, perhaps, people would get a small glimpse of what it is truly like to see an elephant in the wild, acting and behaving like an elephant and the true majesty of these magnificent animals.

Comment by Cynthia, March 28, 2008, at 2:08 p.m.

What a shame. Kendula was born in a zoo and will die in a zoo. Knowing this the zoo wishes him to mature much too quickly so that they can profit from his “seed”.

Comment by Merilee, March 28, 2008, at 2:45 p.m.


In his review of “Collectors Select” at the Arlington Arts Center (“Tariff Up and Start Over,” 3/21), Kriston Capps stated five curators were featured in the show. In fact, seven curators took part.