Billy the elephant. Courtesy Los Angeles Zoo

Supporters of the elephants at the Los Angeles Zoo Friday were trying to determine their next step after a major legal loss at the California Supreme Court that will allow Zoo workers to use bullhooks and electric shocks on the giant animals.

The unanimous decision was made on technical grounds and found that the lawsuit filed by real estate agent Aaron Leider and late actor Robert Culp against the zoo used the wrong legal actions by making arguments in civil court that belong in criminal court.

The now-vacated injunction also required the zoo to exercise the elephants at least two hours a day, and that the soil be rototilled to lessen the impact on their legs.

The case was argued by attorney David Casselman, who said the zoo claimed in court in 2012 that it no longer used bullhooks and electric shocks, but that he and his clients believed they still did when no observers were around.

“I don’t know what the hell happened. They reversed and said that you can’t rely on the taxpayers statute that allows an injunction against public entities that are acting illegally, wastefully or injuring public property to pursue this claim, and so they threw it out,” Casselman told City News Service after Thursday’s ruling.

A spokeswoman with the zoo did not respond to a request to comment.

The civil case argued the zoo was violating the animal cruelty criminal code, but the court ruled that only a prosecutor could make the argument, and it must be a through a jury trial with a higher burden of criminal proof, Casselman said.

The zoo currently has three elephants, and its exhibit has long been a target of animal rights activists who say the animals are being abused, although zoo officials have said the elephants are happy and healthy.

Casselman said he would regroup and continue to fight the zoo over its elephant exhibit.

“We do not intend to stop our efforts to save these majestic animals and get them out of the tiny spaces that have been causing them to suffer and die for so long,” Casselman said.

City Councilman Paul Koretz recently introduced a motion calling for an Asian elephant named Billy to be moved to a sanctuary and away from the zoo on the grounds that life at the zoo has caused him to adopt unnatural, unhealthy behaviors due to his exhibit’s restricted size.

“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.”

–City News Service

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