Queen's trunk call gives depressed Susi new home

A A A

Susi the elephant is sad and bored. She paces to and fro in her small pen in Barcelona Zoo, swinging her head and trunk anxiously from side to side. She has even started eating her own faeces in stress and frustration.

Born free in Africa 36 years ago, Susi has been pining since Alicia, her female companion in captivity for more than six years, was put down a year ago suffering from intestinal colic. But this week an unlikely fairy godmother, in the shape of Spain's Queen Sofia, came to the rescue and transformed the plight of the bereaved elephant into an affair of the state. She has asked Barcelona's town hall, which runs the zoo, to find Susi a happier home.

Queen Sofia is known for her fondness for animals – she loathes bullfights – and her surprise intervention, reported in yesterday's El País newspaper, came in response to a desperate appeal from animal rights groups.

The Foundation for the Adoption, Sponsorship and Defence of Animals said it wrote to the royal palace on 12 February saying that Susi's life may be in danger if she continues to live at the zoo. Two weeks later, the royal palace replied, saying the Queen "regretted" the situation, and that they were writing to Barcelona's city hall. "The Queen is very sympathetic to animals," the foundation's president Carla Cornella said. "She wants to know what is the best situation for Susi."

Susi's behaviour testifies to her depression and boredom, according to animal rights group, Libera a Susi (Free Susi). She pesters visitors for food, consuming chorizo, crisps, plastic bags and whatever else her trunk scoops up. Because elephants are naturally vegetarian, this causes constant digestive problems. Gastrointestinal problems are among the most common cause of death of elephants in zoos, Free Susi says.

The group says that Susi, who came to the zoo in 2002, lives alone in a 1,000 square-metre concrete compound, while the European Association of Zoo and Aquariums recommends that elephants should live in herds, and in spaces of at least two hectares (five acres). "Susi is not well," Ms Cornella said. "If she stays there, she'll die."

The zoo says Susi is fine, and that it plans to settle her in a hectare of more natural habitat with a family of five or six other African elephants for company.

But the Free Susi association says she needs to be in a much more open environment than a zoo if she's to recover from her depression and live out her natural span of up to 70 years.

Campaigners believe zoo authorities might meanwhile bring in Yoyo, an African elephant who lives in the semi-wild near Tarragona, west of Barcelona, to keep Susi company, but they fear that the less institutionalised Yoyo might attack her.

The group has launched a campaign to move both animals to a reservation, either in Spain or abroad, with a habitat similar to their African origins, where they might roam free.

The Portuguese Nobel prize-winning novelist Jose Saramago has also visited Susi and taken up her cause. "She is dying of sorrow," says the writer whose latest novel The Elephant's Journey, about an elephant who travels across medieval Europe, is charging up the bestsellers' list.

Barcelona Zoo received more than a million visitors last year, and is the Catalan capital's most popular attraction after the Picasso museum. Susi has become the zoo's favourite animal, earning the kind of mass affection once showered on Snowflake, the world's only known albino gorilla, who died in Barcelona in 2003.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission, Benefits, OTE £100k: SThree: ...

Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

£32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

£27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Are you a recent graduate loo...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine