More Communities Focus on Children

Thank you for your ongoing attention to the needs of young people in this country. There is a lack of awareness of how many children live in poverty in the US (1 in 5). Many parents have little time or energy to spend with their children. There are an alarming number of latchkey children, home alone or with friends, without supervision.

You point out in a positive way how communities nationwide are attempting to focus on children. You've also covered the resurgence of youth centers. Our community is proud of the teen center it has created. A movement, led by teens in the late 1980s, resulted in a new building and a full-time director. Half the center's board is made up of young people, and teens have been involved in all aspects of decisionmaking.

Your articles about youth centers around the nation help us get ideas from other communities and validate our project for grants. In the beginning, we sometimes felt isolated in our goal to create a center for young people - a place of their own.

Susan H. Anawalt

Monte Sereno, Calif.

Entertainment at animals' expense

The tragic death early this month in Albuquerque, N.M., of Heather, an eight-year-old African elephant, should be final proof that elephants simply do not belong in circuses. Although she was ill, Heather had been kept in a filthy, hot (120 degrees), inadequately ventilated, and unattended trailer crowded with two other elephants and eight other circus animals for an undetermined period of time. The foul odor and swaying of the trailer prompted police to investigate. Inside, they discovered a grisly scene: a young elephant dead and 10 frantic and traumatized circus animals.

Heather's premature death in captivity is sadly not uncommon. In the past three years, 21 circus elephants have died prematurely of unnatural causes. Seven circus elephants a year have died in captivity so that uninformed circus fans can be "entertained."

By nature, elephants are gentle and benevolent. They live in herds and display complex social behavior. Strong bonds exist between family members, and there is a lifetime attachment between mothers and daughters. In the wild, while roaming free, elephants walk 20 to 25 miles a day finding water and seeking, selecting, and preparing food. They are excellent swimmers and bathe daily when possible. Most circus elephants, on the other hand, are chained by two or more legs 95 percent of their lives and unchained only to perform.

Since 1992, we have requested and received through the Freedom of Information Act hundreds of pages of United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspection reports on various circuses. A review of these documents reveals a common thread: All of these circuses have been cited for violations of the few minimal and meager Animal Welfare Act regulations.

The USDA is seeking public comment to help establish standards under the Animal Welfare Act for handling and training exotic and wild animals. With hundreds of violations and complaints on record, a constant history of abuse and neglect of animals, and the resulting threat to public health and safety, the need for better regulation and enforcement relative to circus animals is clear.

The Elephant Alliance believes that the use of elephants in circuses is not only a crime against nature, but also an anachronistic contradiction of our perception of America as a civilized and progressive society. Concerned citizens who are horrified and outraged at the perpetuation of this indefensible practice are asked to write to the USDA requesting that it ban the use of elephants in circuses. Consideration will be given by the USDA to comments received on or before Sept. 22.

Florence L. Lambert

La Jolla, Calif.

Director, The Elephant Alliance

Your letters are welcome. Letters for publication must be signed and include your mailing address and telephone number. Only a selection can be published and none acknowledged. All are subject to editing. Mail to "Readers Write," One Norway St., Boston, MA 02115, fax to 617-450-2317, or e-mail to oped@csps.com.

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