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Conservationist Daphne Sheldrick: Billy the elephant belongs in a sanctuary

January 9, 2009 |  2:11 pm

Billy, the L.A. Zoo's lone elephant Dr. Daphne Sheldrick, chair of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya (which was named for her late husband, naturalist David Sheldrick), has dedicated her life to protecting elephants, mostly in her native Kenya.

Sheldrick is an outspoken advocate for the release of the L.A. Zoo's sole elephant, Billy, to a wildlife sanctuary.  She recently wrote about Billy for the Times' Opinion section.  From her article:

It has been scientifically established that elephants are "human" in terms of emotion, a finding I wholeheartedly endorse. Gregarious creatures, they have a strong sense of family and of death; they form friendships that span a lifetime. Like humans, they need the companionship and comfort of friends. Billy has been alone since May 2007, when his companion, Ruby, the zoo's last African elephant, was relocated to the Performing Animal Welfare Society's 75-acre sanctuary in San Andreas, Calif. Billy should be released to join her there.

Consider this: The worst punishment we inflict on human wrongdoers is solitary confinement and life imprisonment. Is it right to inflict this punishment on an innocent animal that mirrors humans in terms of emotion, longevity and age progression -- and moreover has a memory that far surpasses our own?

Sheldrick was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2006 for her conservation efforts in Kenya (her knighthood was the first to be awarded in Kenya since the country received its independence from Britain in 1963).

Do you agree with Sheldrick that Billy should be sent to a sanctuary?  Or is Jack Hanna right that Billy belongs in the L.A. Zoo's planned Pachyderm Forest?

--Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Billy opens wide for jet of water handler Jeff Briscoe sprays from a hose. Credit: Ken Lubas / Los Angeles Times.

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