Six Flags celebrates elephant's 70th birthday


"She looks pretty good, a few wrinkles here and there and a little gray hair," elephant trainer Patrick Abtey said.

Taj opened some gifts and ate a four-layer cake made of bread loaves as onlookers laughed and took pictures.

"To me, it's like she spent her whole life in a prison," Dr. Elliot Katz told ABC7. Katz, a veterinarian, is the founder and director of In Defense of Animals, based in San Rafael. Katz reviewed the medical records of Taj and other elephants at Six Flags over a recent 10 year period. "Taj did not have a very happy life, being confined in the small area that she was kept in, suffering arthritis, having to be on painkillers and so forth."

Wednesday's party for Taj comes just three days before Six Flags' scheduled season opening for the 2010 season. That will include daily shows featuring the park's resident killer whale, 17-year-old Shouka. Last week, another orca killed its trainer at SeaWorld in Florida. Officials at Six Flags would not say what, if any changes have been made to their safety procedures or the whale show.

"It's designed to highlight Shouka, our killer's whale intelligence and there are safety protocols and procedures in place that come along with that," park spokesperson Nancy Chan said.

Katz thinks the Shouka show should not go on.

"Sooner or later the lessons need to be learned that you don't put people in dangerous situations like that," he said. "It's a big business and that's what drives it. It's not what's best for the animals that they have in their care."

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