SEATTLE: The rambunctious antics of an Asian elephant have landed the Woodland Park Zoo in hot water with animal-rights activists and the media.On June 22, handlers struck the two-year-old pachyderm with an ankus - a hooked rod - after the elephant butted a handler who tried to stop theelephant from eating dirt. Zoos that use the ankus have felt the wrath of animal-rights groups. The Woodland Park Zoo is no exception, as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) fired off letters alerting the press of the incident. "We've responded the best we could, said Gigi Allianic, the zoo's public relations manager. "PETA alleges that we beat the elephant. But that's just not true." Four TV stations, two newspapers, and one radio station responded to PETA's outcry. Allianic said she's always had an open relationship with the press, and this incident is no different. "The press immediately came out, and we opened our doors to them. We explained to them how we work with animals, and how the ankus is used. They could take pictures. We have nothing to hide." Handlers only use the blunt end of the ankus - and only use force - when an animal shows "potentially dangerous behavior, as dictated by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, said Allianic. A handler gave a verbal command for the elephant to stop eating dirt. The elephant then butted its head into the handler, who in turn disciplined the animal with the ankus. "She's almost 1,600 pounds, said Allianic. "When she's four times that, such behavior can be lethal to a handler." While the zoo has received some letters of concern over the treatment of the elephant, it has not suffered a drop in attendance. But the zoo is not out of the woods yet. PETA has called for the Seattle City Council to withhold funds until the zoo switches to a more humane means of handling animals. And a protest is not out of the question, said Debbie Leahy, PETA's director of captive exotic animals. "We've written to the zoo, asking them to use protected contact, which is a much more humane way of treating animals. They're saying they intend to do this, but it's moving too slowly. We wouldn't rule out protests if this doesn't happen within the next couple of months."