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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 06:10 GMT
Elephants leave London
Jim Robson bathing Layang-Layang, a Malaysian elephant
Jim Robson bathing one of the elephants he tended
London Zoo is to end a 170-year tradition and move its elephants out of the city.

The announcement comes after an elephant at the zoo crushed a worker to death.

The animal, and the zoo's two other female Asian elephants, will be moved to London Zoo's sister enclosure, Whipsnade Wild Animal Park in Bedfordshire, when facilities have been prepared for them.

Jim Robson, 44, died from multiple injuries when the elephant rolled on him on 20 October.

We will be sorry to see the elephants go - there have been elephants in London Zoo since 1831

Martin Dixon, Zoological Society of London
Mr Robson was in charge of the zoo's three elephants, Dilberta, Mya and Layang-Layang and had worked at the zoo for 26 years.

The three elephants will move to a more open enclosure and will join a breeding bull and two pregnant elephants at Whipsnade.

Michael Dixon, director general of the Zoological Society of London, said the move had been a long-term plan and was not connected to Mr Robson's death.

He said: "It has been a long-standing plan to assemble all our elephants at Whipsnade, a move that would significantly increase the potential of our conservation breeding programme.

'Familiarisation programme'

"We have to be careful not to disturb the London or Whipsnade elephants by integrating them too quickly or in a way that prejudices their welfare.

"One of our elephant keepers from Whipsnade is currently helping to look after the elephants in London and will be an important part of the familiarisation programme when they reach Whipsnade.

"Even though the move cannot take place immediately, we feel it is right to make this announcement now because of the high level of current interest following the tragic death of our colleague, Jim Robson.

"We will be sorry to see the elephants go - there have been elephants in London Zoo since 1831."

The elephants at the zoo have long been a draw for thousands of the capital's children - when they arrived in the last century visitors were allowed to ride them.

'Positive step'

Virginia McKenna, founder of the Born Free Foundation, which had fought to have the animals moved to Whipsnade, said she welcomed the move.

The foundation had said the animals' pens at London Zoo were cramped.

She said: "At last, a positive step towards the phasing out of elephants in city zoos.

"Also, the zoo's ambitious ideas for the breeding of elephants for conservation purposes, are, perhaps, a little unrealistic.

"It would appear that up to now, in the UK, only one or two babies have survived beyond five years."

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22 Oct 01 | England
Zoo opens after keeper's death
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