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Tucson zoo fight involves elephants, Bob Barker

January 18, 2012 |  3:52 pm

Elephant herd at San Diego Zoo's Safari Park
Connie is an Asian elephant, Shaba an African one. Nonetheless, they formed a bond, paling around together for three decades at Tucson’s Reid Park Zoo.

So when zoo officials announced plans last year to move Connie to the San Diego Zoo –- without her buddy Shaba -– animal activists were enraged.

The Tucson zoo was planning to bring in a herd of African elephants from San Diego, the Arizona Daily Star reported. Because zoo accreditation standards demand that new herds not mix African and Asian elephants, "due to multiple species differences and possible disease transmission issues," Connie would join other Asian elephants in San Diego.

But local activists Tracy Toland and Jessica Shuman considered the separation cruel. It “defies everything we know about elephants: their intelligence, profoundly deep social bonds (females remain with their mothers for life) and the capacity for deep emotion,” they wrote in the Daily Star.

The women launched a campaign to keep Connie, 44, and Shaba, 31, together and added some celebrity sizzle to the debate. At their behest, former “Price Is Right” host and well-known animal advocate Bob Barker recently offered to contribute $500,000 to send the elephants to a California sanctuary if others could raise matching funds.

This week, Tucson zoo officials reversed course, announcing that Connie and Shaba could both move to San Diego, the Daily Star said. Turns out, San Diego’s Asian elephant herd already has an African member, so Connie and Shaba’s cross-species kinship will fit right in.

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--Ashley Powers in Las Vegas
Twitter.com/ashleypowers

Photo: Some African elephants at San Diego Zoo's Safari Park, shown here in a July photo, are destined for Tucson's Reid Park Zoo. Credit: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times

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