PORTLAND, Ore. (KPTV ) -- The Oregon Zoo reopened its doors Saturday after closing Friday, so staff could grieve the sudden death of Lily the baby elephant.
But, as crowds returned to the zoo, a group of animal rights activist lined up outside calling for a boycott.
The demonstrators chanted as hundreds of people walked through the gates to attend zoo lights, a popular holiday attraction.
According to Courtney Scott, with the group Free the Oregon Zoo Elephants, she and her fellow activists are asking the zoo to close its elephant exhibit and release the gentle animals to a sanctuary.
“I think we have to adopt more compassion for the animals in there.”
Scott alleges 21 of 28 elephants born in the Oregon zoo have died.
But, zoo officials tell FOX 12, those numbers are being presented without context and can be misleading.
The zoo’s veterinarians have confirmed Lily’s cause of death was Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus, or EEHV, a disease with a high mortality rate in free and captive elephants alike.
And, they say, Lily’s is the first known EEHV-linked death at the Oregon Zoo.
Regardless, Scott says she would like to see the herd, along with Lily’s mother Rose-Tu, freed.
“Every time an animal dies here there is a lot of outpouring of sympathy for zoo staff and we understand that, but we have to look at how the animal feels once in a while. You know? She lost her baby."
The non-profit is also asking the Oregon Zoo to end its breeding program.
A zoo spokesperson tells me, their hearts go out to everyone who’s grief-stricken over lily’s death, including the protesters but their anger is misdirected.
Despite the demonstration, zoo lights was packed tonight and many of those in attendance were there to honor Lily’s memory, leaving notes and flowers outside of the elephant exhibit.
The Oregon Zoo released the following statement, saying in part: “We ask that anyone wishing to honor lily’s memory please join us in supporting the national elephant herpesvirus laboratory to help find a cure for this disease, which is killing young elephants both in our zoos and in the wild."
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