French leader spurns appeal to save death row elephants

French President Francois Hollande will not intervene in the case of two ailing zoo elephants whose death sentence led Brigitte Bardot to threaten to go into exile in Russia, his office said Wednesday.

The two elephants named Baby and Nepal face being put down because they have been diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) and deemed a threat to the health of other animals and visitors to the zoo in the eastern city of Lyon.

Gilbert Edelstein, the head of the Pinder circus who donated the two pachyderms to the Parc de la Tete d'Or in Lyon, had sought the "supreme intervention" of Hollande in a letter.

"I appeal to your wisdom as this terrible decision is not justified," Edelstein wrote. He claimed the diagnosis of TB was disputed.

But in a response to Edelstein's letter, Hollande's office wrote that "it is not up to the government to intervene in a judicial process already under way," referring to an appeal by the circus owner against a municipal order.

"It is up to the Council of State to rule on your appeal," Hollande's office said, referring to a body that acts both as a legal advisor to the executive branch and as the supreme court for administrative justice.

Edelstein said he was "terribly disappointed" by Hollande's response.

Authorities in Lyon ordered the elephants be put to sleep last month, prompting an outcry that resulted in them being granted a temporary reprieve over Christmas.

Cinema legend turned animal rights campaigner Bardot said she would leave France for Russia if the reprieve was not made permanent -- emulating fellow actor Gerard Depardieu's adoption of Russian nationality and move into tax exile -- as her country had become "just a graveyard for animals."

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