Is Billy the Asian elephant’s treatment at the L.A. Zoo “sad and wrong,” or is he living his live in an “excellent home?”
An outraged Los Angeles city councilman says Billy’s so badly treated that he should be moved to a sanctuary away from the zoo, and the councilman backed up his concerns by introducing a motion to force Billy to be moved.
But Los Angeles Zoo officials are fighting back, seeking to rebut Koretz’s contention that Billy’s living conditions are “unnatural” and too “restricted.”
“The sprawling exhibit is 6.56 acres, with over three acres of outdoor space, deep bathing pools, a waterfall, sandy hills, varied topography, clever enrichment opportunities, and a high-tech barn capable of caring for elephants of all sizes and ages,” according to a statement from the zoo. “The facility greatly exceeds the standards set out by California Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.”
“Much has been said about the zoo’s elephant program, including persistent misinformation and inaccuracies as it specifically relates to our male Asian elephant, Billy,” according to the zoo. “It is important that accurate and factual information about our program be shared so that the public understands why the L.A. Zoo is an excellent home for these elephants.”
Aside from calling for Billy’s removal from the zoo, the motion, which was introduced by Councilman Paul Koretz Wednesday, claims that the zoo’s efforts to collect genetic material from Billy are “invasive” and “detrimental to his well-being.”
The motion also claims the zoo may not be fully complying with a court order that resulted from a lawsuit, which is under appeal but required the zoo to make improvements in the treatment of its elephants and calls for the creation of an animal welfare oversight committee to advise the mayor, the City Council, the zoo and the Board of Zoo Commissioners.
Koretz sees it all differently. Because males and females living in captivity must be kept separate, none of the zoo’s elephants can use the exhibit’s entire space and Billy does not get the daily exercise he needs to be both physically and psychologically healthy, according to Koretz.
“For many years, Billy has lived in an area completely unnatural for an animal of his size and of his stature,” the councilman said. “It’s sad and wrong to see any animal, living in captivity, in social isolation, restricted in movement, and physical activity. In fact, he has long been displaying stereotypic behavior, such as repetitive head bobbing, which goes on for extended periods of time.”
Billy has lived at the zoo for most of his 30 years and has long been the subject of protests against his captivity.
An ongoing lawsuit filed by a real estate agent in 2007 alleges conditions at the zoo are unsuitable for his species. Animal activists also started an online petition last year calling on the zoo to move Billy to a sanctuary and collected more than 190,000 signatures.
— City News Service
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