City Council panel recommends relocating zoo elephant

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Wave Staff and Wire Reports

LOS ANGELES — A City Council committee recommended Nov. 29 that Billy the Elephant, an Asian bull elephant who has lived at the Los Angeles Zoo for more than 30 years, be relocated to a sanctuary.

The council’s Personnel, Audits and Animal Welfare Committee, chaired by Councilman Paul Koretz, also recommended that the council instruct the zoo to not involve Billy in any breeding programs.

Koretz filed a motion in September similar to one he filed in 2018 voicing concerns over the zoo’s treatment of elephants.

During the committee meeting, Koretz — who leaves office in a few weeks — said that to this point the zoo had successfully waited him out in regards to proposed changes for Billy the Elephant.

“I don’t think we should let Billy languish there any longer,” Koretz said.

In September, Carl Myers, a spokesman for the zoo, said the zoo “vehemently disagreed with the characterization of the care and well being of our Asian elephants and our entire elephant management program as referenced in the motion.”

“We have complete confidence in the knowledge, skills and expertise of our entire animal care team, including those who care for our elephants,” Myers said in a statement to City News Service.

Billy was recently moved to a larger exhibit called Elephants of Asia, where he occupies the same space as three female elephants, according to the motion. That is an “inherently risky move,” the motion states, citing elephant experts.

The zoo’s website states that Billy and the three female elephants “can decide on the types of social interactions they have with each other based on their own preferences.” It also said that while the zoo “respects the work of well-run sanctuaries,” the zoo’s staff, resources and facilities ensure that “there is no reason for [the elephants] to be sent to live in a sanctuary.”

Koretz’s motion claims that before Billy was moved to the exhibit, he was “placed alone in a small enclosure where he was kept on hard surfaces not considered beneficial for his feet and joints,” adding allegations that he lacked sufficient exercise and stimulation.

In Defense of Animals praised the committee’s vote.

“The Los Angeles Zoo has been a repeat offender on our list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants because Billy’s suffering is painfully obvious,” said Courtney Scott, an elephant consultant for In Defense of Animals. “LA Zoo has ignored Billy’s signs of trauma and brain damage for years, so it’s past time to send him to a sanctuary that is equipped to put his needs first in a larger, more natural setting.

“Captivity is a terrible existence for all elephants. He deserves liberty — it’s time to free Billy.”

In 2012, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge John L. Segal found the Los Angeles Zoo guilty of mistreating Billy. He told the courtroom, “captivity is a terrible existence for any intelligent, self-aware species.”

Myers countered, saying “The zoo’s animal teams are comprised of bona fide animal welfare and animal health experts, and, as an Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited institution, we will continue to provide the highest standard of care for the animals entrusted to the zoo.”


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