PITTSBURGH, Feb. 2 (UPI) -- The use of dogs to control elephants at the Pittsburgh zoo appears to be stressing the larger animals, a government report released by an animal rights group said.
Inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture visited the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium in early January. The department ordered the zoo to review its policy on elephant handling.
The report was released Monday by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The group has criticized the practice for months, saying it causes problems for all three species inlved.
"When elephants, dogs, and human handlers freely mix, everyone is in danger," PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winder told WPXI-TV.
The report said that inspectors observed a dog growling after it was ordered to get between an elephant and a keeper and lunging aggressively at the elephant. A manager also told the inspectors that in the past dogs have bitten the elephants.
"All animal handling must be done in a manner that does not cause behavioral stress," the USDA said.
Barbara Baker, the zoo's president and CEO, called the dogs a "valuable tool."
"The safety of our keepers and animals is a top priority and we provide an additional safety level with the use of trained cattle dogs," she said in a statement. "The dogs read the behavior of the animals and alert the keepers to any disruption in the heard, preventing potential safety concerns for the staff and elephants. This method of animal management, in the livestock field, is referred to as a low-stress method."
The zoo is known for its elephant herd and is involved in an experimental effort to protect African wild elephants, whose numbers have dropped sharply because of ivory poaching. Project Frozen Dumbo uses sperm taken from wild bull elephants to articially inseminate cow elephants in zoos.