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Discussing Babe's and Sophie's Futures

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Rock Island County leaders are one step closer to deciding the fate of Niabi Zoo's two elephants, Babe and Sophie. A public meeting Monday gave them a chance to hear from community members and one of the world's leading experts in elephant management.

Elephant Management Consultant Alan Roocroft looked at our zoo earlier this year and says both of our elephants would be better off somewhere else.

This week, he fielded questions and comments from community members about his findings.

A lot of people around here are very passionate about what happens to these animals.

"Of course I love the elephants just as much as everybody else does," Niabi Zoo Director Marc Heinitz told us, "But, you know I want to make sure we do what's best for the animals."

That was the general consensus among everyone who spoke at this meeting.

But just what is actually best for the elephants - that's where people seem to disagree.

On one hand, you have those who agree with Roocroft's findings -- Babe and Sophie need to be moved to a different home.

Roocroft's assessment looked at things like the elephants physical and emotional health, staff training, and the suitability of the facilities -- and found them all to be lacking.

"I know people who keep antique cars. They wouldn't put them in there," Roocroft said about the elephants' indoor enclosure.

On the other hand, though, you have those who say the county and zoo could and should make the necessary upgrades to their elephant facilities -- Whatever it takes to keep Babe and Sophie happy and healthy here.

"We could do it in the past, why can't we do it now?" one man asked during Monday's meeting.

It's clear that this is an emotional issue for a lot of people.

It is especially so for one woman who spoke out during this meeting, Jodey Eliseo, who goes way back with Babe and Sophie.

Long before they came to Niabi, she performed along side them in the Ringling Brothers Circus:

"When it comes to Sophie, she - out of 18 elephants at Ringling - she was my girl," Eliseo told us. "She's a little hellion. She's got a mouth on her like me. She's funny, smart."

"It's hard to see her in this situation," she said.

Eliseo says moving the elephants elsewhere is simply the right thing to do:

"Letting go of something you love is the ultimate act of kindness and love," she explained.

That decision will ultimately be up to Rock Island County leaders to make.

No timeline has been set yet for them to make it, but we're told they hope to have a decision by the end of August so they can take action - one way or the other - before the next winter season arrives.

Niabi Zoo is the only zoo in Illinois that currently has elephants.

The Brookfield Zoo in Chicago moved their elephants out a few years ago, because they faced the same issues with providing proper habitats.

Alan Roocroft says Babe and Sophie need to be moved somewhere warmer, with a larger herd, and with better resources and year-round facilities to provide them with proper care and quality of life.