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Jack Hanna announces his support for the L.A. Zoo's controversial elephant exhibit

Billy, the L.A. Zoo's only elephant

Celebrity zookeeper Jack Hanna weighed in today on the hot topic of Billy, the sole elephant resident at the L.A. Zoo.  In a letter to the L.A. City Council, Hanna pledged his support to the controversial "Pachyderm Forest" project, which will cost $42 million if completed as originally planned.

There's been a great deal of debate over Billy's living arrangements.  As our colleague Carla Hall reported last month, construction on the Pachyderm Forest has been halted over concerns not just over cost but also Billy's well-being:

"Our zoo is trying to do the best job they can with the real estate they have and the budget they have," said Councilman Tony Cardenas, who conceived the motion to stop construction of the exhibit and move Billy to a sanctuary. "Elephants don't fit in zoos; they have ailments they don't get out in the wild. Whether it's an acre or three to four acres, it's inadequate."

Hanna writes about a tour he took of the Pachyderm Forest construction site last month:

"What I [found] was a project taking shape that will set a new standard for the care of elephants at zoos, providing a home that will be even larger than what Asian elephants enjoy at the San Diego Wild Animal Park.  Not only will Billy and any future residents have a huge amount of space in which to roam, they will continue to enjoy 24-hour monitoring, state-of-the-art medical care, love, nurturing and a level of attention that ranch-like sanctuaries cannot provide.

"My conclusion: the Pachyderm Forest will be a model for humane elephant care that will educate generations to come on the threats Asian elephants face in the wild."

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times

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I don't think Jack Hanna means ill, but keeping elephants in zoos is beneficial to zoos. Elephants are a big draw, and no doubt are genuinely beloved by their keepers, but that doesn't necessarily translate into what's best for the elephant..

The fact is, as reported in the journal "Science" last month, confinement in zoos shortens elephants' lives. A separate study done by Bristol University shows over half of elephants in captivity display abnormal behaviors not seen in the wild,

Study author Chris Sherwin said "It's possibly their way of coping with stress, but almost certainly indicates they're in an environment which is inappropriate for their needs."

It may be that with his long experience in zoos, Hanna sees the proposed L.A. Zoo exhibit as an improvement over past exhibits, but slightly better than heinously bad is not much of a humane goal for what should be a world-class city.

Let's let Billy go to a sanctuary. It's the kind, humane thing to do, and we gain a lot more as a city by doing the right thing than by learning nothing from science and the past and shortchanging a living creature of years of his life just so we can stare at him.

What kind of an expert is Jack H.?
his education? Bachelor of Arts degree.
It is cruel to keep elephants in the zoos,
but, of course, Jack don't give a hoot about well-being of animals.
Send Billy to a sancturary before she, like many others, dies prematurely.

Zoos are extremely important aspects of our urban environment. Experiencing live animals triggers something in us that bypasses our 'civilized' selves and nourishes our deepest existential core. Developing children need to experience animals, smell their smells, analyze their ways of moving and interacting. Adults need to be reminded of their essential animal selves as they wend their way through the marketplace and the illusory world of money, laws, and labels. And what of the animals' welfare? As we willfully destroy their natural habitats, I think it is our obligation to provide our animal cousins with quality homes that meet their individual needs. Zoos can do this. Of course it's a gesture, but an important one. Finally, I find it all too wonderfully human to get worked up over the living conditions of a single, well-cared-for elephant in the face of the systematic slaughter of millions of equally intelligent animals (pigs for instance) for food. Banishing Billy to a dusty ranch won't solve his problems and canceling the new elephant enclosure won't help us. Let zoos evolve.

Jack Hanna has made a very nice career, thank you, from the exploitation of animals. (His very large rustic home has been featured in Architectural Digest.) Dragging wild animals all over the country for talk show appearances, under totally unnatural circumstances. Wild animals currently held in zoos as "attractions", particularly the highly intelligent and social elephants, should all be sent to sanctuaries to live out their days in peace with members of their own species. If Jack Hanna approves of zoos, there has to be money involved, not the animal's best interest.

I have been a Zoo research volunteer at the LA Zoo for almost 9 years and have had the opportunity to participate in formal observations of Billy. I am also a graduate of the Zoo's animal keeper training program, and during that time was assigned to the string that provided care for Billy. I don’t believe that the high level and quality of care given to him by his keepers and veterinarians could possibly be provided in a sanctuary. These keepers have devoted their lives to caring for elephants and their devotion and knowledge is focused on Billy. Billy is also critical to the support of a species survival program, and as I understand it, sanctuaries do not allow breeding. The construction of the new exhibit should be continued so that Billy will have a larger space un which to live.

Where the arguement falls apart is the "slightly better than heinously bad" comment. Familiarize yourself with the LA Zoo's proposed plan and compare and contrast that to the care and facilities that santuaries such as PAWS offer. You would be surprised.

I just love it when these anti-zoo activitists disregard what the EXPERTS say by claiming they are lining their pockets. Rediculous!

ALL the TRUE EXPERTS feel the same way about this exhibit - and about Asian elephants in ACCREDITED ZOOS - We have a moral obligation to save this extremely endangered species. And we have the obligation to treat them humanely.

Billy has NO physical or psychological ailments. BUT, he DOES need a bigger and better home.

He would have that by now if these misguided and very noisy people would get out of the way and let the Zoo finish the exhibit that would have been completed in 2006 if they hadn't stopped the construction back then!

How can they claim to care about these animals when they continue to stop the zoo from doing exactly what they claim Billy needs - build a bigger home - and get the best and most loving care for him.

I have been so puzzled by their behavior. But I realize now that it's not about the animals for them. It's about getting rid of zoos alltogether. THAT'S become very clear to me.

Let the people of LA have what they voted to have by 79% years ago - build the Pachyderm Forest for Billy - Help save the Asian Elephant from extinction - and let the people who have devoted their lives to educating themselves on this subject and devoted all of their time to caring for these animals do their jobs.

If these anti-zoo activists have their way - we would have NO CA condors left - they tried to stop the conservation efforts by the LA and SD Zoos years ago. Now the condors are coming back and procreating in the wild again. So lets look beyond the emotional noise they get their headlines with - and get to the truth - they don't want zoos! Even if that means the extinction of these species.

Billy needs to stay at the LA Zoo where he belongs. The zoo is dedicated to providing him with professional care, and it is involved in several Asian elephant conservation initiatives. The LA Zoo is making efforts to enhance Billy’s current enclosure, and he receives various enrichment activities everyday to stimulate him and encourage exercise.
If Billy goes to a sanctuary in Sylmar, they will castrate him and he will be there just to live the rest of his life until he dies. He will not be able to participate in the species’ survival plan by breeding with eligible females, which would be unfortunate because he is genetically valuable to his species. These animals are extremely endangered in the wild and face extinction if we do not work to keep their numbers healthy and stable.
The purpose of the zoo is not only to entertain the public, but also to educate them and be a part of each species conservation efforts. The zoo is a wonderful place for children and their families to learn about animals that do not live in their backyards. Without elephants at the zoo, how will our children be able to relate to Billy and understand the importance of his species’ survival?
This issue has already been voted on and APPROVED by LA City Council and the mayor. It is irresponsible to go back on their decision now. The Pachyderm Forest is already 30 percent complete and $10 million of city funds (taxpayer money) has already been spent. Why would you make this decision now, and waste taxpayer money that has already been used to begin construction. If you ask me, Councilman Tony Cardenas has something else up his sleeve…perhaps he is getting paid off by someone… Why else would he take such an interest in the exhibit’s construction with the project so far underway?

The zoo critics are right about one thing: Living in a zoo isn't the same as living in the wild.

In zoos, herd animals aren't subject to attacks by predators. They're effectively removed from the food chain and have the opportunity to live their full lifespans.

Predators are fed daily (or whatever frequency is appropriate for individuals) rather than when they can catch food. Droughts, fires or human intervention in the wilderness habitats won't affect these cared-for animals.

In the wild, sick animals or wounded animals are on their own. Predators can't hunt to feed themselves, and weakened or sick prey are the first to be preyed upon.

In the zoo, animals receive 24/7 veterinary care by a team of qualified, caring experts. They're housed indoors at night and during inclement weather in comfortable, appropriately designed quarters.

Zoo animals, like pampered pets, are loved by their handlers and the public alike and treated with the utmost care. No such love exists in the wild.

And in addition to being a safe haven for the animals themselves, zoos provide a priceless educational resource for our children and ourselves. Without the zoo, we'd have to travel to Asia, Africa, South America and other wild spots to view these animals. In the zoo, we get to see them right here in our own city.

I think the Los Angeles City Council needs to honor their original decision to support the L.A. Zoo's Pachyderm Forest project. That support would serve the best interests of the animals as well as their constituents, the citizens of Los Angeles.

Why is it everyone is an animal expert except for the animal experts! You have a handfull of kooks and some psuedo celebrities that are convinced Billy is unhappy because they "see it in his eyes"!! So now the zoo may have to move him to another facility where he will be isolated, not allowed to breed and in a place with lower standards than the LA zoo, which is an AZA accredited institution. Because they think he looks sad. REALLY!!!

Folks, Billy is a male Asian elephant. He would be living a solitary life in the wild and would not be allowed to be in a group in a sanctuary as NO Breeding is allowed. If the zoo is able to continue the plan for the pachyderm forest, Billy may be able to breed and slow down the extinction that faces the Asian elephants. If Asian elephants are never seen by the up-coming generations, they will never care about saving this wonderful species. The wild is disappearing in the Asian countries and the human population is growing. Hopefully, we can save some room on the planet for this species in the future.

It is essential that we have a first rate exhibit for elephants in LA zoo. These magnificant animals most probably will not be in the wild after this century, so it is necessary for us have them in the zoo and know how to propagate them in zoological parks. Otherwise our grand children and great-grandchildren will never know about these magnificent animals.

As a volunteer zookeeper at another facility I have had many opportunites to view how animals are handled in rescues, rehabs, zoos, breeding facilities and so on. In my opinion, the L.A. Zoo has done a good job.

Elephant facilities in some of the most prestigious zoos or even at some elephant rescue facilities aren't always as well thought out as this project is.
I think Jack Hannas opinion is valuable and validates their efforts. Granted, having a B.A. or any other degree does not make one an expert. Having experience does.

Zoos are an important part of teaching conservation and animal sciences. Many people do not get the opportunity to see these kinds fo animals except in pictures and on t.v. Call it a necessary evil if you like (I might too because I prefer to see animals in the wild), but if this leads to the preservation of the species and convinces people that all creatures are worth saving, Billy and the Pachyderm Forest are going to be of great value.

Even animals in the wild can be stressed. Let them give it their best effort to make this work. Billy will not suffer from lack of care. If she does not seem to like this place, then let her go to a facilty.

None of us can say for sure what shortens our lives (other than the obvious things) or the lives of the animals we care for.

Billy was recovered in the wild after the rest of his herd/family was slaughtered. If left, he almost certainly would have met the same fate. It is through the care and research provided by the Zoo, an institution dedicated to sustaining, maintaining, and promoting education about Asian elephants, and a multitude of other species that humans are beginning the long overdue process of restoration of balance to our environment.

Without Zoos, a precious light would not be shown on the atrocities taking place with these amazing creatures, as well as many other species, that may be extinct in the wild within the next 50 years due to human actions. It is easy to sit back at a distance and say keeping Billy in an enclosure at the Zoo is inhumane, but I don't see how sending him to a "sanctuary" which after all is just another larger enclosure in the San Fernando valley where he knows no one and is still alone is any more humane. If sent there he will be castrated, keeping the extremely important process of breeding these beautiful creatures from occurring. How does that help his species in the long run?

One last note to the poster commenting on Mr. Hanna's degree and credentials. Billy is a male elephant, not a "she." If your going to state facts and question credentials, knowing Billy's gender might be a good place to begin.
In the 21st century, it is our responsibility as educated humans to hold ourselves accountable for the horrible manner in which we have treated the earth and all of her inhabitants, especially in the 20th century, and to begin a rebuilding and restoration process. The modern Zoos of today are leading a charge in the education of the mass public on how to make this restoration a reality.

Billy has spent the majority of his life in one of these Zoos, our L.A. Zoo, surrounded by those who do care for him and are interested in his well being. Stripping him of that is far from the "humane" thing to do.

Who is Jack Hanna?
Really? Are you kidding?
Google him genius, then get a clue.

If you are at all concerned about conservation and the environment, you would support Zoos and the efforts they've made to preserve endangered habitats.

By shutting down this exhibit, City Council will be partially responsible for the demise of this species.

...who is Jack Hanna... shame on you.

First of all, did I see someone question the credentials of Mr. Jack Hanna? Wow.
Secondly, the acreage for the zoo’s exhibit is about the same size as Dodger stadium.
Thirdly, Billy (who by the way is a MALE Asian elephant) would not be “set free” in a sanctuary; they have a fence, too.
Fourthly, Billy would not receive the socialization in a sanctuary, because he is a MALE Asian elephant and they don’t promote breeding.
Fifthly, Billy would be with other Asian elephants at the LA Zoo to support breeding and CONSERVATION efforts. Who doesn’t want to support conservation?
Sixthly, Billy receives EXCELLENT care from Animal Care EXPERTS who have years of experience working with wild animals.
To base all your information on celebrities is denying yourself the full story. Research before you judge.
Check out billyshome.com for more information on this topic.

Since Theresa Aulig apprears to be so passionate about her feelings, I believe she should check her facts. Billy is by all rights a MALE elephant.

My vote has been weighed in.

While I don't in general favor keeping animals in zoos, this particular project is an exception. The LA Zoo has gone out of its way to create a cutting-edge environmnet for Billy and his future friends. The Pachyderm Forest could indeed become the new gold standard, and could only encourage other zoos to improve their habitats. Animal activitsts need to balance idealism with practicality--otherwise, ultimately, it is the animals who suffer.

There certainly seems to be a flurry of hate for those of us who suggest that Billy might be happier living the next thirty years in more than 3.6 acres (shared with three other elephants).

But why these people should continue to scream that anyone who opposes zoo confinement for elephants is a non-expert (who apparently therefore doesn't have First Amendment rights to free speech), when the experts HAVE weighed in, with a Dec., 2007 scientific study that says zoo confinement shortens elephants' lives, is beyond reason.

As for Mr. Gachot, it's hard to believe you can write all that with a straight face. You apparently genuinely believe the human spirit benefits from the unnatural confinement of other species, which doesn't say anything good about your version of the human spirit.

"Developing children need to experience animals, smell their smells, analyze their ways of moving and interacting." Um, no they don't, not at the expense of the animals' happiness and their longevity. And if you believe what you see in a zoo in any way approximates nature, you are...incorrect. What does looking at an animal do for a child? You provide no substantiation for this claim, but I suspect that looking at a confined animal makes a child think animals exist for thir amusement. Again, not a great enhancement of the human spirit. How many of us went to zoos as kids? What have we done for animals since then?

But the piece de resistance is your supposition that you can blanket-accuse people who advocate for the release of Billy to a sanctuary of not caring about pigs, cows and chickens being slaughtered by the billions. Really? You really think we don't care about that, that we didn't work for the passage of Prop. 2, that we aren't, many of us, ethical vegetarians and vegans? Apparently all that hanging out in zoos hasn't made you as intelligent or as sensitive as you think it has.

In times such as these there should be a place where humanity reigns and hope and wonder exist. We should all wish for the safekeeping of these majestic animals, and all of the animal life at the LA Zoo. We become a little less human, a little less humane, when we take away an experience as irreplacable as this. Please keep your commitment, we'll all be better for it.

How would you like to be kept in a cage and people walked by you and gawked and took pictures? In regards to Charlie Morey the only natural predators elephants have in the wild are humans who kill them for their ivory. Elephants are rare creatures who have alot of the same emotions as us.

They and all creatures deserve to live in peace. They don't need to be in zoos to teach children, the addition to satellite television and the interent kids can get plenty of research from wild animals. They are not ours to mess with how arrogant of humans to think that we can.

Let Billy go to the sanctuary I have seen it and it looks beautiful and there are other elephants for him to be around and be happy to roam.

It seems everyone knows what a 'Zoo' is but are very confused as to what a 'Sanctuary' is. Billy would be kept in an individually designed enclosure and most likely castrated. He would NOT be allowed to roam freely, mingle with other elephants or reproduce like he would be able to at the L.A. Zoo if the Pachyderm Forest is completed. Free Billy from his current enclosure but free him to live in his own home -- the state-of-the-art Pachyderm Forest at the L.A. Zoo -- with his own kind.

Jack Hanna's creditentials are sound. Although known for his tv programs now, his work at the Columbus Zoo is well known. If you are looking for academic creditentials or hands on animal care expertise, Hanna and the zoo staff are the ones to be consulted. Not the celebrity voices that are only giving lip service to people who only know to complain, but would not put themselves into the daily work of hands-on care for the elephants they cry about. The LA City Council needs to listen to the experts they hired for the job of animal care at the zoo, not the voices of celebrities who only listen to the loudest voices of complaint without checking out the actual situation as a whole.

If you are so concerned for the well-being of elephants, why do you not go to PAWS and spend a week working the daily 24/7 care of those elephants, then return to LA and see if you have a new perspective on hands-on care for them. Also consider the always unsure financial situation of most sanctuaries. They are always looking for funding and that makes life somewhat uncertain for those living there.

Hanna is right. The best and most secure place for Billy to be is at the Los Angeles Zoo where his safety, care and well-being has always been paramount to the keepers and curators who care for daily.

Correction, the study, in the journal "Science," that shows zoo confinement shortens elephants' lives, is from December 2008, not 2007.

I'd also like to observe that some of the mistiest musings here, from Ms. Wareham & Mr. Gachot, seem very amoral. Elephants aren't symbols, they're not totems, nor are they objects of "wonder." They are very intelligent, emotionally complex animals with lifespans as long as ours. Their lives are finite and either they can be happy or they can be unhappy, depending on how well we treat them.

If you were put in Dodger Stadium and told that's all you had, for the rest of your life, I doubt you would be happy. But you seem to think it's good enough for an elephant, even when a bigger, better option exists.

For all your misty musings, you seem to be only concerned with your own happiness and your own fulfillment. No matter how you cloak that in ethereal, pseudo-profound musing, it's still just rank selfishness.

I like elephants. I remember seeing them in the zoo as a child, and when I first heard that people were suggesting zoos shouldn't have elephants I felt just like any of you do -- that kids today wouldn't get to see what I had. But my responsibility, as an adult, is not just to view things through the lens of my own selfishness. Seeing elephants is nice, but letting them be as free as possible is the right thing to do. Just because you want something for yourself, or even your kids, that doesn't make it the right thing to do.

And how, EXACTLY, does breeding elephants in zoos promote conservation? This keeps being thrown around as if the mere statement is incontrovertible truth, but HOW, exactly? If Billy fathers a calf in Los Angeles can that calf then be sent to live in the wilds of India? Can the calf grow to adulthood, being fed by and imprinting on keepers, then head off to Asia and live life in wild just fine?

Doesn't make sense.

IDA's report contains blatantly inaccurate, and misleading information with much of it taken out of context - it is disappointing to zoos and potentially confusing to the general public. This is a publicity stunt by IDA to further their cause. Basically, the IDA strategy is to try and steal the spotlight to bring attention to their goal which is to initially get the elephants and other animals out of zoos.

IDA’s list is not scientific and has NO scientific basis, meaning anyone in any city can vote on it online without ever visiting the Zoo and seeing our programs. Accredited zoos across the nation are the animal welfare experts -based on science. IDA is not scientific based organization.

IDA continues to rely on old stories and misinformation that is years out of date.

Zoos work to promote conservation and help connect people with nature and become aware of the situation of elephants in the wild. IDA’s press release actually takes the reader away from the most important issue to anyone who truly cares about elephants – the situation in the wild. Coming to the Zoo and seeing the elephants makes one curious about this majestic mammal and hopefullyit inspires more people to want to learn about what’s happening to elephants in the wild, how habitat is disappearing, and take positive action to save them.

IDA - Please go help save cats from being skinned alive in China - then we'll support you.

"Correction, the study, in the journal "Science," that shows zoo confinement shortens elephants' lives, is from December 2008, not 2007."

Let us not forget it was a study done on European zoos, not American zoos.

To Kate-
I'm a vegetarian and have been for over 10 years. I'm a rescuer of animals. I'm all for the humane treatment of animals. But I also support Zoos.
I used to belong to extremist animals rights groups. Now I don't. Mainly because they do not support Zoos.
I don't hate these groups. I just don't agree with them.
In fact, I'd accuse these groups, who harrass people, harm their homes, raid their religous services, and attack what they have no experience doing as being the hate mongers.
I don't project my own feelings onto creatures who have an entirely different way of being.
Are you an education expert? What are your credentials?
Are you a Zoo expert?
Have you studied anything about either at length?
Have you even spent any significant time with Billy- or his keepers?
You make me think of the expression- those who can't do teach. Well, those who cant (or don't) do anything criticize.
Like Jack Hanna, I've dedicated my entire career, and between 8-10 hours every day to Zoos and their mission. Education, conservation, research- these are the things that make up a modern zoo.
I'm an expert in my field. I can spit studies and statistics at you faster than most.
But this isn't about facts- this is about beliefs.
I believe in zoos.
I'm not into animal torture. I'm not into jails. I wouldn't be associated with any organization that had anything to do with either of these things.
I absolutely know, because I experience firsthand on a daily basis, the transformative power of zoos, and how much people get out of them.
I can't tell you how many times I've seen people project their own issues onto charismatic mammals. Gorillas for instance. People often think they look 'sad'- when in fact, they have very different facial expressions than humans do, and on more than one occasion have actually been smiling- something an untrained eye wouldn't catch.
I absolutely know that the animals at the Los Angeles Zoo get excellent care. Billy will be fantastically happy in his new exhibit.
Put your energies towards more pressing matters. Whatever crusade or bandwagon you need to jump on next.
Let the experts deal with what you obviously don't, and never will agree with or understand.
Billy doesn't need or want your help. He's doing just fine.

The bottom line of this discussion is that humans do not agree about animal husbandry. It seems to me that the highest priority should be given to saving the species from extinction. Asian elephants are endangered, and Billy is a BULL Asian Elephant who is now old enough for breeding. There is a National and International SPECIES SURVIVAL PLAN in place to assist in these efforts. Maybe someday we can repopulate conservation reserves or animal parks with herds of elephants! Now, wouldn't that be nice? The Gorilla Foundation already owns property on Maui for a similar purpose.

As a previously neutral observer in this debate, I would like to express an observation. It appears that Paul Gachot's comments were attacked by Kate Woodviolet on this site for no other reason than that they made sense! I noticed that while Mr. Gachot made no personal attacks on any other individuals who have posted on this website, and simply stated the facts (which I found persuasive), Ms. Woodviolet spent nearly her entire post bashing Mr. Gachot and his views on a personal level. That speaks volumes to me. It tells me the kind of people who stand on each side of this issue. Those backing the L.A. Zoo appear to have really done their research and follow the facts. Those against the Zoo appear to base their arguments on emotion and general impressions and beliefs they personally hold about elephants, and they make the fight personal. Perhaps they had some bad experiences in zoos when they were young?? Who knows? I came into this debate undecided, but I don't think I can say that anymore. I hope the L.A. Zoo gets to complete their Pachyderm Forest soon.

"Lnold" have you ever been to the In Defense of Animals website? Working to save animals being killed, or skinned alive, for their fur is the least of what they do. Please stop trying to cloud the issue, as so many do, by accusing people who stand up for the rights of animals of being hypocrites. Loving your dog, but eating a pig and cruelly confining an elephant is what's hypocritical, whether you like it or not.

But if you are replying to what I wrote, which seems to be the case, since no one else mentions IDA (nor did I, for that matter) the study I refer to is not an IDA study. It is a study published in the journal "Science." The IDA website talks about the study, but it's not theirs.

Face it, the accusation that only non-experts say zoo life is bad for elephants has been exposed, finally, as a lie.

Zoofriend, your ad hominem attacks don't change the fact that there is now scientific proof that elephants' lives are shortened by zoo confinement.

Nor does your personal hostility to opposing viewpoints, and your somewhat weird condescension trump the truth.

I don't need to be an expert when the experts are now on my side. Try and have a nice day anyway.

Observer, maybe you should observe better.

Kate Woodviolet cited a study in the journal Science.
Paul Gachot asserted, with no evidence, that children "need" to see animals in confinement.

He also implied that people who were concerned about Billy were not concerned about the slaughter of livestock, which is essentially an accusation of hypocrisy.

Dear Ms. Kate Woodviolet,

In regards to your comments:
“They are very intelligent, emotionally complex animals with lifespans as long as ours.”
Yes they are intelligent, emotional complex animals. No one’s arguing this. But just so you have your facts straight, their average life span is mid 40’s both in the wild and captivity.

“..even when a bigger, better option exists.”
Bigger does not equal better. The LA Zoo offers a state-of-the art facility with 24-hour vet care, high quality diet, enrichment, and the opportunity for socialization. If it weren’t for the protesters holding up the construction, Billy would be with a harem already. IF (and that’s a BIG IF, as most sanctuaries cannot accept males) a sanctuary accepts him, he will be in an enclosure BY HIMSELF, with no hopes of any socialization.

“…Seeing elephants is nice, but letting them be as free as possible is the right thing to do.”
I don’t know if you have done any research on Asian elephant habit, but it doesn’t look good. Human encroachment, poaching, and land mines. If you’ve ever seen the photographs of an elephant carcass with limbs blown off due to land minds, or their tusks cut out of their head… that’s the world you propose he be sent to? And sanctuaries are not “free,” they are still captive. They live in a confined area. If you see the areas elephants “explore” at the sanctuaries, they are centered around their barns and food source. Not much past that. And as good intentioned as sanctuaries are, sometimes (more often that not) the diets are not up to par and they cannot afford the vet care necessary. Sanctuaries are great for those animals in dire situations. Billy is not in one of those situations.

“And how, EXACTLY, does breeding elephants in zoos promote conservation?”
Basic math. If a species dies out, there will be 0 animals left on this planet. Gone is gone. They cannot be brought back after that. Maintaining a population (captive or wild) is foundation of their success. ALL accredited zoos are part of SSP (Species Survival Plan). MANY animals have been returned to the wild (condors, marmosets, rhinos, foxes… the list goes on and on). One aspect of conservation is bringing the ecosystem back into balance. It starts with educating local communities about their environment and helping to find solutions and alternatives to some of the destructive behaviors and practices. Once the habitat is back in check, native plants and animals can be reintroduces to ecosystem. I believe Yellowstone and the return of the wolf is an excellent example. By allowing the Zoo to carry on with the exhibit, is allowing that educational message be shared.

For those of you who are so adamant about “saving Billy,” perhaps you should take a look at the world he comes from, and help with recovery efforts. Help educate the world on how we can live side by side our natural environment, instead of destroying it. That’s what we should all be fighting for, not letting a species die off.

My fear is that if you take elephants out of zoos, they won't be discussed when people visit zoos. I mean, when was the last time you went on a tour at a zoo that did NOT have e.g., cheetahs, and got a tour/talk on cheetahs? It’s counter-intuitive. Zoos spend time and money educating the public about the animals they DO have, not the ones they don’t. Duh! L.A. Zoo should build the new Pachyderm Forest and launch a great big elephant education campaign to teach everyone about wild elephant conservation! Yee-haa!!!

Does anyone know for certain that he would be better off at the animal sanctuary? It seems to me a lot of assumptions are being made about the level of care and the general living conditions he would experience at this other place.


Where are you getting your facts? Asian elephant lifespan is 60 -70 years. It's only half that in zoos.

Re zoo care, food without adequate exercise (not 3.6 acres for life) is what the "Science" study suggests is largely to blame for elephant mortality in zoos, i.e. obesity, and resulting orthopedic breakdown..

And seriously, you really believe what I meant by "letting them be as free as possible" meant either returning Billy to the wild, or that I thought sanctuaries don't have fences? Somehow I doubt that.

I think you were doing what people who oppose animal care activists have always done, attempted to characterize my side as foolish, impractical and unthinking. But you are incorrect about that.

And while I understand the theory of conservation, what I don't see is how it applies to Billy today. If you want genetic diversity for potential future re-population then bank his sperm. But to suggest that there is a direct line between one lone male elephant confined in a zoo and the eventual repopulation of an entire continent is a mighty stretch and, at best, negates the value of his life.

If you want his sperm I'm sure he won't begrudge you that. But let him walk around on 200 acres, not 3.6. Seriously, why is that such a bitter pill for all of you to swallow?

As others have said before, in his new larger enclosure Billy would have many amenities that make elephant life enjoyable - including females to mate with and excellent veterinary care. His keepers create enrichment programs for him - he would have such a good elephant life, if the hostile group would finally allow the zoo to build his "forest".

It would be extremely interesting if the Los Angeles Times ever ran a story about Billy and elephants that did not get the facts wrong at the start.

For instance......The Pacyderm forest will not COST $42 million dollars if completed as planned.......Most of that money has already been spent and was raised by the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association. IT DOES NOT COST THE TAXPAYER 42 MILLION.
Councilman Cardenas (The animal expert..oh?) says elephants get ailments in zoos, they don't get in the wild.HOO-HAH! BILLY HAS NO DISEASES like elephants in the wild.

Come on Editors. You used to be good at staying in the middle of such controversies. A review of Carla's stories makes it clear she has no such purpose in mind. Is she an animal behavior expert too? You editors seem to think so!

The Science article quoted in the first response is under review by the journal because it does not meet the scientific standards for that journal , the work was funded in part by an animal rights group, which makes the science questionable. In addition, broad conclusions are drawn about populations that did not appear in the study at all.

In an ideal world we would not need arks for animals, but this is not an ideal world. The LA Zoo has an amazing record with captive breeding programs. Billy has unique genetics. His genetic diversity needs to be retained to pass along to wild populations. That would not happen in a sanctuary. They do not have the expertise nor the vet staff for such an undertaking.

In 2003, when the San Diego Zoo worked to rescue a group of elephants who were going to be killed in Africa - so called animal welfare groups in the U.S. stood in federal court and stated that they would rather see the elephants dead than in a zoo.
The folks trying to stop the LA Zoo from working with elephants are the same people. They are not really interested in the well being of the elephants - they would sacrifice the elephants if it meant they would win their point.

It's interesting that the animal rights activists are so hurt by the negative comments directed at them when these are the same people currently sending nasty emails and letters to the people caring for animals at the Zoo.
Like most bullies they feign surprise that anyone would think of them as what they are.

Please keep Billy in the Los Angeles Zoo as it is the bast place for him to live his life.

I'm strongly opposed to keeping an elephant exhibit at L.A. Zoo. In any zoo for that matter. I believe that an interesting, informative exhibit can be achieved without confining a live animal to a small space. Similar to the Koala exhibit, only use fake elephants for the display. Or, creat an IMAX type theater that runs a truly honest film on elephants in their natural habitat. There are many ways to make an interesting, informative exhibit that would not be cruel to an animal. I resent the labeling that is going on here, such as if you are for animals rights, you are extreme. I believe that humans, as the higher of all the species, have the responsibility to watch over the lesser species. Not that humans are the best species, but we are the ones that make or break our planet. Not the animals. So, my vote is to end the captivity of the elephants. No more live exhibits. I vote to send Billy to a healthy sanctuary. No more spinning in his pen.

Billy should stay at the zoo! He deserves his new habitat!

I've looked at the plans on the L.A. Zoo's website and this new Pachyderm Forest looks like it is going to be the new gold standard for U.S. zoos. So, shouldn't the people who want better habitats for elephants be hounding other zoos that really need to update their elephant exhibits and don’t yet have plans to do so? Or is that the next step? Get the L.A. Zoo to close its elephant program, then go after all the other zoos in the country? Never give any zoo the chance to upgrade? Just end it all and count that as a big win for IDA or PETA or whatever other groups are backing this opposition? Excuse me, but this is not about getting a win for your local animal activism group. This is about doing what's right for all elephants everywhere -- including those in the wild!

It would be such a tragedy if elephants go extinct in the next century or two... and it could happen. Man, just imagine how our generation could be blamed for that. It's not a good legacy to leave the world. I really think that animal activists and zoo members should ALL BE WORKING TOGETHER... on many different fronts to coordinate their efforts and save elephants and other species. Can you imagine how much could be accomplished?!? Why can't we do that? Are we so caught up in winning our arguments that we have lost sight of what is really at stake here? Come on! We have got to be better than that... all of us! Let's do it for the elephants.

Here's one BIG expert who is definitely NOT on your side, Kate! Dr. Ian Douglas-Hamilton (elephant conservationist and founder of Save the Elephants in Kenya) was interviewed by ScienceNow Daily News (Dec. 11, 2008) regarding that elephant longevity study and he expressed concern that the paper presents an unrealistic image of elephants in the wild: "In most wild populations, human predation is the predominant form of mortality," a fact that was minimized in the longevity study. He also said that zoos "play a significant role in conservation by stimulating the interest of children and adults." This insight comes from THE original elephant conservationist who turned the world's attention to the Ivory Trade so many years ago, and he has worked tirelessly on behalf of African elephants ever since. He understands the need for zoos with elephant programs to educate people about what's really going on with elephants in the wild.

It's clear many people here know and enjoy the display of animals in zoos, but it's equally clear that this knowledge has not transferred to a desire to seek what is best for animals. Ringling Bros. also has a "conservation" center in Florida - it has the most "successful" Asian elephant breeding program in the world - in captivity. Never mind that the elephants are all beaten with bullhooks to learn tricks - hey, it's conservation if it's keeping an elephant alive, right? And even better than in a zoo, because rather than traveling a few miles to get to one of the 77 zoos in the U.S. that have elephants, Ringling Bros. visits hundreds of cities a year! Because seeing an elephant all that matters, after all. That's what zoos promote, and as shown by the posts here, the lesson has been soundly learned as well.

This is really water under the bridge at this stage in the vote, but it did not escape my notice that before soliciting everyone’s opinion on this issue, L.A. Times was careful to post a big photo of an elephant behind chains! Way to try to bias the vote, L.A. Times. Do you really think people don’t notice stuff like that? And then there are the voting options. I mean, really? So, our choices are “Yes -- zoos are a healthy environment for elephants and provide a PUBLIC SERVICE” – Are you kidding? -- Like zoos are just trying to do a “public service” by exhibiting elephants? Right, zoos are that petty. Or “No -- it's INHUMANE to KEEP elephants in zoos and Billy should go to a SANCTUARY”?? -- Like, the anti-zoo activists are all about ethics. Nice use of emotionally loaded buzz words too. That’s rich. Doesn’t anyone at L.A. Times know how to construct a valid and reliable poll? I think it’s pretty amazing that so many folks are writing in support of L.A. Zoo INSPITE of the biased language and photo. Oh, well… I guess you are foiled again, L.A. Times!

So many words for such an obvious fact: an enriching, luxurious exhibit custom desiged to assure that Billy and his future family live well and prosper. What's the problem here?

Well, obviously Miss Woodviolet has some STRONG opinions of her own. I want to make it clear to her that her opinions are NOT shared by all because they are far from facts.

In a perfect world, it would be wonderful to have all animals free in the wild where they belong. But unfortunately, we live in a world where elephants (as well as thousands of other species) are victims of poaching, land cultivation, war and habitat destruction because of us—humans.

Billy will still be confined in a sanctuary, so your MUSING about the study on captive elephants would still hold true for him at the sanctuary. What really makes you think that Billy will be provided better care at a sanctuary? As many people have commented, sanctuaries usually have limited funds, so that also means limited care.

I laugh at your comment that you “like elephants” and then reminisce about how you loved seeing the elephant at the zoo as a child. Then you MUSE: “And how, EXACTLY, does breeding elephants in zoos promote conservation?” If you were truly educated about the topic of conservation and the hard work that zoos put in every year towards species conservation, you would not have asked such a silly question.

My point is this: Asian elephants are endangered due to habitat destruction and poaching in the wild. They WILL NOT survive the next 50 years in the wild at the rate we are going. The LA Zoo and zoos all over the world are part of species survival plans to ensure that Asian elephants do not vanish from this earth, whether they are in the wild or in captivity.

And yes, captive born animals CAN be released into the wild and they do just fine. The LA Zoo has proved it with their California condor conservation program. At one time there were only 27 condors, all in captivity because they were extinct in the wild. The LA Zoo and many others teamed up and bred condors IN ZOOS that have BEEN RELEASED IN THE WILD and are now thriving. There are now more than 300 in the wild. That’s called conservation…and that’s how the zoo does it.

Makes sense to me.

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