A problem even larger than Gérard Depardieu faces the French government this week. Should President François Hollande intervene to rescue two sick elephants in a Lyon zoo?
The fate of Baby and Nepal, Asian elephants exiled from a circus for bad behaviour, has hung in the balance for almost three years. They are suspected of carrying the human form of tuberculosis. In theory, by government edict, they are to be given lethal injections by Friday of this week.
A petition on the internet calling on President Hollande to save the elephants has gathered over 70,000 signatures. France’s most redoubtable campaigner for animal rights, retired actress Brigitte Bardot, has threatened to emulate Mr Depardieu in seeking Russian nationality if the president fails to save Baby and Nepal. Ms Bardot, 78, has written to the president offering to save the elephants by paying for their removal from the animal park in Lyon, their quarantine, upkeep and veterinary bills. If the elephants die, she says she will seek a Russian passport, leave her seafront villa in Saint Tropez and move to Russia. The fact that Russia has a poor animal rights record and is one of the world’s leading fur producers has not deterred her.
Can Baby and Nepal, aged 42 and 43, be saved? In theory, they can. Treatments have been developed in zoos in the US but they are costly and carry the risk of transmission of the disease to human carers.
The elephants were removed from Pinder Circus in 1999 and were first diagnosed as TB carriers in 2010. Herds of farm animals must be destroyed by French law if TB infection is found or suspected. No such clear law exists for wild animals. In the last few days, however, the Conseil d’État, the supreme arbiter of the legality of government decisions in France, has agreed to consider the case. The death sentence cannot be carried out until the council gives its ruling, probably this week or next.
If the council members give the thumbs down, only President Hollande can save the elephants and, in theory, prevent Ms Bardot from fleeing Saint Tropez for Russia in mid-winter.