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    Russian zoo insists elephant will stay despite global petition

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    Russian authorities rejected an international petition for an elephant being held in cramped conditions in Kaliningrad Zoo to be moved to the U.S., insisting the animal was in good health.

    KALININGRAD, August 10 (RIA Novosti) - Russian authorities rejected an international petition for an elephant being held in cramped conditions in Kaliningrad Zoo to be moved to the U.S., insisting the animal was in good health.

    International animal rights activists, shocked that the elephant has spent years alone in a "small and barren enclosure surrounded by rusty steel and grey cement," have launched a worldwide campaign to send Pregolja to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, North America's largest natural-habitat elephant refuge.

    The elephant was born at the Kaliningrad Zoo, in Russia's exclave on the Baltic, in 1970, and has lived there ever since.

    A spokesman for the local mayor's office said Friday: "Pregolja is the only Ceylon elephant in Russia, and this is one of the reasons why she will stay in the zoo."

    "The elephant's physical condition is good - she is not ill, and has a good appetite," the spokesman said. "She is a captive elephant, 37 years old, and elephants usually live for about 50 years. It will be difficult for the animal to start an independent life at her age."

    About 6.3 million rubles ($247,000) have been allocated from the municipal budget to improve the elephants' enclosure in 2008, but enlargement will be impossible due to the lack of space.

    The campaign for her release has gained momentum on the internet, and people have been encouraged to sign an online petition.

    "Pregolja is living in a small, inadequate concrete yard and has lived there all alone for several years. These conditions are physically and psychologically damaging to an elephant's health. Pregolja deserves a more humane existence," the "Free Pregolja" petition says.

    A separate Web site dedicated to the elephant says: "The inability to move freely over great distances combined with the hard substrate she is constantly standing on, are factors that most certainly are having devastating effects on Pregolja's feet and overall health."

    The director of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee confirmed that the sanctuary would accept Pregolja if the Kaliningrad Zoo and city council were to let her go.

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