Elephants are expensive (Doh)
Always, in the back of my mind whenever I make a promise to an elephant, a mahout or a donor there is a voice screaming - THIS IS GOING TO TAKE MORE MONEY THAN YOU THINK - so I was happy this week when I saw two media pieces taking my inner voice to the masses, especially as the monthly and quarterly accounts close on our quiet season in a few days time (and so I'll have to take my inner voice to my accountants).
Unfortunately the first voice I'll call upon to illustrate the furrows on my brow is that of Homer Simpson; in a recent episode Bart won a fully grown African elephant on a radio talk show.
For those of you who don't follow kids' cartoons, however well researched and satirical they may be, they are still cartoons, a "Homer moment" is the sudden realisation that you have just said or done something stupid, usually accompanied by the utterance "doh" - Homer's "John moment" is below (and I did have to search to find the script, honest again), Bart taking the role of Amp:
Homer: Look at these bills: chains for elephant. Shots for elephant.
-- "Oversized decorative poncho"?!
Bart: Technically it's for a giraffe, but I think I can let it out a
Homer: Well these bills will have to paid out of your allowance.
Bart: You'll have to raise my allowance to about $1000 a week.
Homer: Then that's what I'll do, smart guy.
Girl: Can we see the elephant?
Boy: We'll pay you money...
Homer: For the ninth time, no!
With a little bit of help Homer then tries to pay for the elephant's expenses by charging a dollar a ride only to find that by charging so little in order to attract a crowd he cannot begin to properly look after an elephant.
Fantasy it may be but it rang a few bells in the elephant camp TV room I can tell you, they are expensive to keep and that's why places that look after them properly have to charge more for what they do.
The second piece is taken from real life, you'll be glad to hear, and concerns the bill for transportation for the eight elephants that were recently exported to Australia to be star attractions in the Melbourne and Taronga Zoos - no matter where you stand on the argument as to whether or not they should have gone (and so many people have now stood on it that it s difficult to get a foot hold so I won't try) I think my inner voice is just hitting home with a few people on the Aussie side, it doesn't matter how many sums you have done there will always be additional expenses and bonuses along the way - these are elephants and elephant people, I had to laugh about the bottle of cologne but I have a sneaking suspicion I know who (on the Thai side) would have claimed that.
I was also interested in the RSPCA man's comments that the money could have been well spent helping Thailand look after elephants at home; without getting into the wrongs and rights of the argument (desperately trying not to anyway) he doesn't mention how much lower this bill may have been had the RSPCA not decided to contest an already confirmed legal decision; thereby prolonging the quarantine, necessitating more flights to and fro by staff (and perhaps bottles of expensive cologne to hide the scent of nervousness during court appearances?). He also does not mention how much money the RSPCA themselves spent on a legal battle to contest the original decision, a legal battle that they eventually lost as (ethically right or wrong) the export was legal and recognised by CITES or whether he felt that money could have been better spent elsewhere.
Ultimately, whether you believe this export will help the conservation of the species or not, the Zoo authorities' job is to attract guests to the Zoos whilst looking after elephants.
The RSPCA's job it to prevent cruelty to animals and they argue that confining an elephant in a zoo constitutes cruelty to animals and looked to prevent this.
The legal battle obviously cost both sides a lot of money so, I guess, at this stage, the argument comes down to deciding who has the greater duty to better spend their funds elsewhere, the charity or the Zoo authority - both believed they were doing their job.
June 25, 2007 12:00am
BEER nuts, paints, perfume, hair products and even three harmonicas contributed to a $6.6 million bill to bring eight asian elephants to Australia.
The elephants themselves cost just $20,000 each to buy, documents seen by the Herald Sun under Freedom of Information laws reveal.
Three of the eight pachyderms -- Dokkoon, Kulab and Num-Oi -- have now made Melbourne Zoo their home.
It will take more than 47,000 families to visit the Melbourne tourist attraction to cover its share of the tab.
Half of the costs borne by Melbourne and Taronga (Sydney) zoos consisted of more than $1 million in legal fees and permits, and $2.3 million to transport the elephants from Thailand.
Melbourne Zoo contributed about $2.5 million to the consortium.
It included $1.5 million of taxpayer money from a state government grant and $210,000 for staff travel and accommodation.
Trips by zoo staff to fast-food outlets and convenience stores, outings to temples, staff barbecues, stays at five-star hotels, gifts for elephant keepers and duty-free shopping helped push the bill into the millions.
Staff expenses and company accounts paid by Melbourne Zoo reveal:
THE elephants ate their way through $2014 worth of unsalted beer nuts, 4450kg of apples and $2882 worth of Turkish figs while on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
HARMONICAS, paint, chalk, wooden logs, bamboo and a footstool were bought to entertain and enrich the elephants while in quarantine.
MELBOURNE Zoo staff took 58 flights between Thailand and Melbourne between September 2004 and June 2006.
STAFF members claimed a bottle of Bvlgari Pour Homme cologne, a salary bonus for an unnamed person and valet parking on expenses.
The elephants spent more than two years in quarantine in Thailand and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.
The process was delayed by legal action against the zoos' consortium by animal welfare groups in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
The overall cost of bringing the elephants out does not include the $13.5 million upgrade to Melbourne Zoo's Trail of the Elephants exhibit.
The consortium costs also include $1.5 million for operations in Thailand -- including building the quarantine centre -- $1.5 million for a three-month stay on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and $100,000 for other contingencies.
Zoos Victoria CEO Laura Mumaw said the money was justified.
"It's a long-term investment in sustaining elephant populations and supporting an Australasia conservation program," Ms Mumaw said.
"We are very pleased that the elephants have formed a good, strong social unit with the female already here."
Ms Mumaw said visitor numbers to the zoo had increased about 16 per cent since the arrival of the elephants.
She said staff expenses were low considering they spanned two years.
However RSPCA Victoria president Dr Hugh Wirth, who was involved with the legal action against the zoos, said the money could have been better spent on conservation projects in Thailand and upgrading facilities for existing zoo animals.
"If they wanted to spend the money they should have spent it in Thailand at the request of the Thai authorities," Dr Wirth said.
He said the zoo consortium had misled the public about the reasons for bringing the elephants out and that it was not for conservation but to improve zoo exhibits.
Ms Mumaw rejected Dr Wirth's claims, saying the elephants were part of a conservation project to ensure their survival.