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23 May, 2009 06:10

Gay elephant causes controversy in Poland

A Polish zoo has invested millions in the largest elephant house in Europe. Hopes were high that Ninio would sire a whole herd, but he's showing a lack of interest in females that could cost him his place at the zoo.

Gays, Jews, and animal rights activists in the Polish town of Poznan have a new hero.

10-year-old Ninio is already an outcast. Born in an Israeli zoo, he has changed towns because nobody wanted to keep him.

Here is the issue with Ninio: he's not interested in female elephants, and his attitude to males has been described as 'affectionate.'

But zoo keepers are not certain that this means he is gay.

Zoo keeper Robert Dabrowski says we should wait and see.

“Elephants reach sexual maturity by 14, so he is just a baby,” Dabrowski says adding “we put him in a separate cage because of his previous bad behavior. He is big so he can bully smaller ones."

So Ninio has a few years before his sexuality can be determined, but he's already become somewhat of a white elephant for the zoo. They spent $11 million on this house for a big herd, and as one local politician put it, not for a gay elephant to live here.

The politician later publicly apologized. But still the investment in the largest elephant house in Europe is not paying off.

“This project was built under strict guidelines for animal housing from the EU. It is meant for a family of elephants, and we hope very soon this will be the case,” says Bozena Przewozna from Poznan’s City Investment Office.

The Zoo’s director Lech Banach believes animals can't have homosexual tendencies, and gave assurances Ninio will deliver the goods.

“To us, Ninio is a male elephant first of all, so we count on his offspring. We are bringing female elephants soon, and if he doesn’t mate, we have to exchange him for one that does,” he says..

Apparently in the harsh world of zoo politics, there is no place for a gay elephant. The organizers of the ‘Ninio knows how’ festival are raising money to keep him in Poznan and to promote tolerance.

“Poland is still a very homophobic society. It’s natural to have homosexuality in animals, no one, not a person nor an animal should be forced to have sex if they don't want to,” says gay rights activist Roland Ciesiolka.

But until the girls arrive, Ninio can continue to enjoy his care-free existence, unaware people are 'trunking' into his private life.