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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

Comments () | Archives (535)

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This is why I dislike blogs. People can anonymously hide behind their keyboards and say whatever they feel, no matter the effect it may have on others. Paraglider and Miss Posh, it seems you are so full of hate I truly feel sorry for you. It must be doing a number on your health. You hurl these insults at us, the zoo workers, in what I feel is a last ditch effort because you are losing this battle.

That said, I personally want to thank you for caring about animals. There are many who don't and I feel I owe you that gratitude. But please don't refer to me as inbred or a poacher because I am doing the best I can to better the lives of the animals in my care.

You want me to stand up for myself? Here it is. I work for the zoo in the lowest position on the animal care food chain. Financially, that is. But, because of the zoo and the work I am lucky to be able to do, I am rich in life experiences and quite happy to be honored enough to have this job. I wake up happy to go to work. And because you have shown a recent interest in my salary, I own my own home, two vehicles and have plenty of cash leftover to follow many of my passions. The city provides us with many benefits that the common man only wishes they had in today's troubled economy.

The "facts" as I have read on this blog are amusing. No, I don't believe Billy will be castrated if he were to go to PAWS. That's silly. But I also believe that he will be kept seperate from the females as he won't be allowed to breed. However, to be able to smell and touch them over a fence and not be able to do what his instincts tell him he should seems not only cruel, but dangerous.

Yes, the 3.6 acre exhibit we plan on building has the potential to be divided into four yards. That doesn't mean he will be seperated into one yard at a time. The exhibit is built in a circular format to encourage Billy (and someday the others) to do all this roaming people claim they must.

The numbers of deaths at the zoo are not yet clear to me. However, in the past 20 something years I have been there I have seen the death of 5. The elephant names that I have seen In Defense of Animals refer to go back to the early 1900's. Can we really be held responsible for the deaths of those animals being kept in different era in an entirely different zoo locale by a staff of people that have long since been dead themselves? That's like holding you responsible for the death of that puppy your great grandfather drowned. Or me reminding you all that the great Carol Buckley got her start in elephants by teaching some poor thing how to rollerskate for her own financial benefit. Do I think she's evolved out of such a horrific past? Yes. So have we.

Let's please be kinder to each other. It's a small planet and we should be working together. Imagine the good we could do with our combined energy.

Listen, you've got a bunch of former zoo workers saying that elephants should not be kept at the LA Zoo. Gary Kuehn, DVM has said it. Former LA Zoo curator, Les Schobert, has said it. Another female vet whose name I don't recall called on the LA Zoo to let Billy go to a sanctuary. These people know what they're talking about. They have seen the suffering that these elephants experience in zoos. Get Billy to PAWS before it's too late. Stop being selfish and think of him for a change.

I am a supporter of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennesee.
They do a wonderful job taking care of all the Elephants that have been abused in Circuses, and those that have also come from Zoos. No animal should be put on show for the enjoyment of humans, at the expense of their quality of life. Man always thinks he is superior. But, all they resort to is cruelty to make the animals bend to their will. What would they do without an iron bar or bull hook? I think it all comes down to money, mans greed. I would like to see the banning of all Zoo's & Circuses.

Maybelline, I don't know what "roaming" you think would be possible for any elephant on a paltry 3.5 acres, subdivided or not when they are used to walking miles per day in the wild. They need this physical exercise to maintain their health. Like humans, their health suffers when they don't get plenty of exercise. Why is it so difficult to understand this?

The Zoo would not be able to house Billy with the female elephants. Males do not live with female herds in the wild. That is not natural for elephants and they will be fighting constantly if he Zoo tried to do that because the females will try to kick him out. With only 3.5 acres, he will be consigned to a small portion of an acre yard, just like he is now and Angelinos will be $42 million poorer. What sense does that make?

It's really hard for me to conceive of anyone being in such an entrenched state of denial as you zoo folks seem to be. It doesn't seem to matter what facts are put in front of you, it just doesn't make any difference. You all just keep chanting your zoo mantras over and over which tells me none of you are doing any critical thinking. If you're satisfied keeping Billy and other elephants in an inhumane environment for his species, I can't believe you care about him. Your refusal to even admit that the largest land mammal needs lots of space is unbelievable.

What do you think Gita and Tara died from? They died from captivity induced arthritis and foot infections directly caused by their living conditions. Helloooooo! In addition, the Zoo was guilty of gross negligence in leaving Gita collapsed for hours before she was even given any medical help. She threw a clot which finally finished her off and that was caused by her being in a downed position for hours. The LA Zoo has lost 13-15 elephants in 30 years. That's a terrible record in anyone's book. I urge you to watch a YouTube statement made by Dr. Keith Lindsay, a conservation biologist who has studied elephants in the wild for many years.

Let's finally do the right thing as a city and get Billy to a better life in a sanctuary and close this elephant mortuary-in-the-making. Continuing these inhumane zoo exhibits completely contradicts any claimed conservation mission.

CreamyDove ~

The zoo already exercises Billy daily, 2-3 times each day. It's enough to keep him healthy in his current habitat, but not a long-term solution. That's why the zoo is expanding the elephant habitat so that it will be even better able to keep him healthy. They did the same thing for Gita when they saw her putting on weight and she lost 1,000 lbs! So the zoo is more than able to keep him healthy as that is what they already do.

Billy would be able to be housed with them, just like the elephants at the Columbus Zoo. If they don't get along all the time, especially when he's in musth, there's ample room for him to be by himself while the females have their own space. Each yard will be more space than what he currently has and still more when access is open between yards. If he goes to PAWS, it will definitely be a continuation of his life now - alone in a pasture until the day he dies.

Saying Angelenos will be $42 million dollars poorer is a bogus statement. The money comes from voter-approved zoo bonds, private donations, and funds from GLAZA. It's going to cost the tax-payers nothing to build this exhibit.

But stopping this exhibit? It's going to cost the tax-payers millions from the general fund to repay those bonds to the county and the city and to build him facilities at PAWS, not to mention the 1,000 jobs lost that would build this habitat, directly aiding the local economy.

The largest land mammal does need space, which is exactly what the zoo is providing for him along with continued quality veterinary care, staff dedicated to maintaining his physical and mental well-being, and female companions for the opportunity to mate.

Nice little spin on the Gita story considering it was a groundskeeper who noticed her down and didn't report it, not one of her regular keepers. She died of a blood clot, but anything can die from that - even people.

You wanna talk records? How about the fact that 2 of the elephants being claimed to have died at the zoo died in 1940 and 1947 respectively. I find that fascinating considering the LA Zoo wasn't built until 1966. Or that one of the elephants wasn't even the city's elephant. It was a ride elephant whose owner had it euthanized on zoo property, yet the zoo is being blamed. That's 3 elephants of the supposed 15. Makes you wonder about the rest of them with this kind of accuracy in reporting.

And if you want to talk deaths since that's all you keep on about, explain the 7 deaths in the last 7 years at the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee or the 5 deaths in the last 5 years at PAWS. By your logic, these facilities have horrible track records compared to the zoo when you consider the number of deaths claimed over the zoo's 43 year history.

But we all know that's not a fair statement because elephants - no matter where they are - die. Just like any other animal dies for any number of reasons.

I say, let's do the right thing for Billy and give him the life we know he deserves. The life that the zoo has been tirelessly trying to give him for years now while being held up at every turn. The life that the citizens of Los Angeles voted for with their tax-dollars and continued to support with their donations. The life that he will not have if he goes to a sanctuary.

It's a life he has been forced to wait for.

Don't make him wait any longer.

Has anyone ever stopped to consider that both sides could possibly be right?

We need high quality zoos that are dedicated to providing the best possible home for their wild ambasodors to educate the public and provide people an opportunity to see wild life that they may never see in the wild and to study them and to breed them for diversity and scientific minded conservation measures.

We also need sanctuaries to care for animals that do not receive the quality care that an AZA accredited ZOO currently provides for their animals. Billy has a home and a family now that cares for him deeply.

We need to protect and rescue other animals that are truly endangered or abused.

Let's join forces and educate as many people as possible about our common cause of protecting and conserving wild animals and their habitat.

Please stop your fighting and look at your common causes.

I just do not understand it. Animal Rights people protest and argue for zoos to improve upon the living conditions of their animals... but when the zoos try to improve they are still mad. Its like damned if you do, damned if you dont.

Zoos cannot evolve in one step, it is a slow process that takes years of learning, time and money. Not too long ago zoos were nothing but horrid concrete and steel. Today many are moving to more wide open natural exhibits where the people are highly restricted within small paths and viewing areas. More of an animal park/sancutary type of layout.

I will not argue that zoos are perfect, but they have come so far and are still improving. Anyway, how on earth can we ever see how great they can become if we fight them each time they try to improve. For all we know the "zoos of tomorrow" might all be sancutary based.

Personally I think Animal Rights groups, Animal Welfare groups, Zoos and the Govt need to spend more time on fighting against backyard breeders (of both domestic and exotic animals), road side animal stands, conservation projects within and outside the US and the import/export issues that revolve around the illegal widlife trade.

We have a limited number of animals left on this planet, a limited space and very limited time. Saving them and turning this world into something good again is all about time... time management. And frankly, we are wasting it fighting back and forth like this.

Side note: there is no need for all the rudeness and harsh words that are being passed back and forth. I also do not like zoo workers are being attacked and more or less called ignorant. Yes poor decisions can be made from time to time, I work at a zoo and can admit that. But when push comes to shove they know far more that goes on than those who do not work at one. Makes me think of those people who think and complain they know more than their doctor about health related issues. Of course they can make wrong decisions from time to time or be a jerk, but when push comes to shove they know more about medicine than you. Working at a zoo is no different.

Billy deserves to stay in the home and with the caregivers he has known all these years.

I wish the animal rights folks would get back to championing spay and neuter programs - steel leghold trap bans - and improving farming conditions for animals.

Those days, folks, you were a cause for celebration. Now you hurt God's creatures more than help. But, then again, is that not your unsung agenda....no animals under human care regardless the cost to the individual creature or the future of the species?

Gee, Linda, I guess you've qualified for one of the zoo's bonuses. Congratulations. I guess some peoples' souls are for sale really cheap.

Honestly, you folks really need to stop drinking the zoo's Kool-Aid. Let Billy go before the zoo kills him just like they killed Gita.

For goodness sake Paraglider... there is no reason to be such a jerk towards anyone. And I am not sure exactly who you mean by "you guys" (Tropic Thunder moment) because there are many people who work at a zoos and in this converstaion that think that conditions for elephants in zoos need to improve.

And I am not sure why anyone tries to argue the death of others as a solid arguement. Elephants die and be it in a zoo, a sancutary or the wild they can die young or due to human error. Zoos do not kill their animals, sancutaries do not kill their animals... but it can happen. Does that mean we should remove all the animals under their care? Goodness no, but in situations where human error is the fault chances should be made. And that is what people are trying to do... people on BOTH sides are trying to make changes for the better.

Sadly it is people like you who cause set backs. Those work work at zoos, animal welfare, animal rights, etc, etc, etc are held back over ignorance, stupidity and childish acts and comments such as some I have seen in this thread.

Makes me sad.

One elephant...one. alone. lonely.

Elephants are pack animals. Let it be a member of the pack in the sanctuary. Let it go.

This is not about children...staring at a mammal. This is not about L.A. jobs. This is not about zoo keepers playing "fetch" re: article in L.A. Times...this is about one mammal.

Let him go to the sanctuary and be an elephant.

No more playing "fetch" with the zoo keepers. That sounds healthy. Let him go.

The zoo killed Gita as surely as if they put a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. In fact, it would have been kinder had they done that than subject her to years of grinding, confined captivity that killed her by inches each day. Leaving her in a downed position for hours before anybody even tried to help her is very telling.

The callous disregard the zoo people show these animals is truly sickening. And so are the LA City Councilmembers who voted to continue torturing poor Billy. Human selfishness seems to know no bounds.

I guess everyone can stop going around in circles... it was voted on today by the city. They are going to finish the exhibit and he is going to stay.


By the way Diane... once the exhibit is finished he wont be alone all of the time. Also elephants are not "pack" animals they live in "herds", however the males do not. The only time they are around other elephants is to breed, even more so with bull Asians as they are extremely aggressive when they are in musth. And I have nothing to say about "fetch", but our elephants love to play soccer/klckball with the keepers.

Julie, that is not true that the only time male elephants spend with other elephants is when they breed. Male elephants also sometimes travel together in small groups and often they will stay just a short distance away from a female herd. In addition, African bull elephants are just as aggressive in musth as Asian elephants. Some expert believe even more so.

I agree that we should stop going in circles. The zoo folks seem to make a habit of that. Maybe that's why they just keep building small, token menagerie exhibits instead of evolving into more of a sanctuary model that takes the animals' needs into consideration.

For the most part male elphants do remain alone once they hit adulthood. Of course that is not always the case, but it is the vast majority of the time. There are always exceptions to the rule when it comes to nature.

Also, "Zoo folk" are not the only ones inside this discussion or outside it that are taking things in circles. And as far as the comment of they continue to small exhibits and not turning into more of a sancutary type setting. I believe that has been covered and they are trying to move in that direction. The very fact that the zoo in question wants to build something larger and better (even though you think it is not better) should be proof of that enough. Point being, zoos cannot make such a massive step overnight, but they are working towards it. Just takes time and understanding.

But again... circles.

Julie, it's already been confirmed that the new exhibit will not substantially increase the space of Billy or any other elephants. 3.5 acres shows that the zoo still has a fundamentl lack of appreciation for the spatial needs of elephants. Billy should go to a sanctuary. When the LA Zoo is prepared to get serious about theie spatial needs and agrees to stop breeding them for their own self-serving purposes (not elephant conservation) then maybe they can have some elephants.

But I doubt that will ever happen because I don't think the zoos' inherently exploitative mindset is going to change. Zoos are a form of show business, and putting on a show is not a conservation project.

One does not need to be a scientist or an expert to know that zoo's, dolphinariums or circusses are bad for animals, one just needs to have compassion for all living creatures.

Why is everyone so concerned about elephants going extinct?? Seriously......someone mentioned that we need to preserve this species so that our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren can see/know these magnificent creatures. Is that all you are worried about?? Humans being able to SEE them? Or maybe we need to keep elephants alive so we can keep the circus going, again, so that humans can continue to be ENTERTAINED for years to come. So what is the real agenda here....what is truly best for elephants??? OR are your underlying motives really geared towards what is best for the almighty, ever-so deserving human(s)?? Zoos......give me a break, what a joke!!!

"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."

"Recovered"?? You mean, "taken"!!!




Please, don't make him wait any longer...

We need to respect all living creatures, for nature with all these poor and beautifull animals must be protected; in sake for a living planet and for our grandchildren.

I am ashamed of Jack Hanna, he should be ashamed of himself.
What is he getting out of this deal?
To keep these animals in such a small area is nothing short of abuse and Jack Hanna and everyone associated with this project should know that.
It is obscene that they would spend this kind of money when our country is in such a retched state.
We should all understand the needs of these beautiful animals, If I understand that a sanctuary would be most beneficial to Billy, why cant the powers that be?
All this has to do with is money, they got their hands on nearly fifty million and it's burning a hole in their collective pockets.
Help Billy by doing the humane thing and allow him after twenty years of service to retire to a sanctuary.
Do not jail this lovely Billy another twenty years.

Zoos are ok if they set up the animals in a setting as close to their normal habitat as possible.

Meghan, Asian elephants are going to be extinct in zoos within about 30 years tops. Zoos have consigned them to this fate by continuing to keep them in deprived exhibits with insufficient space and by spreading the elephant herpesviruses through the captive populations by failing to practice any infection control at all. Yours is typical of the ignorant zoo apologist position which shows you nothing at all about elephant conservation. The zoo industry itself admitted 14 years ago that it would be impossible to save elephants from extinction by keeping and breeding them in zoos, acknowledging that they would have to be saved iin their natural ranges if they were going to be saved at all. But zoos divert resources away from this real elephant conservation to try and perpetuate elephants in zoos to stay in business. Zoos as they exist today will disappear over the next 50 years, but unfortunately, ignorant, selfish, anthropocentric people will cause more elephants to suffer and die in zoos and circuses and may also cause elephants to become extinct before zoos finally give up the ghost.

Animals should be allowed to live out their lives naturally with their families travelling miles each day and without human intervention. Would it be ok if another race came to our planet that considered themselves superior to us and started exhibiting us and all the other dreadful things mankind does to innocent and helpless animals? I bet a lot of people would change their mind then, if it were them that were being exploited. No suggestion that they were educational, or being given a good home would be acceptable, would it really? Animals needs in zoos cannot be properly met and that is simply unacceptable. We have no more right to do it to them than another race would have to do it to us.


What the hell is wrong with Jack Hanna? He is clearly getting paid a hefty sum of money to approve of this 'jail' publicly. Elephants and other animals DO NOT belong in a zoo or any other unnatural enclosure, PERIOD! These creatures are wild animals and should rightly be living in their natural habitats. Animals are not here to serve as our entertainment. Ask Jack Hanna if he will be happy to reside in a small enclosure day after day after day after day... purely to serve as entertainment for selfish people who refuse to accept that he has rights and his rights should NOT be exploited! And if he answers NO, then he is being the selfish one! The same laws apply to animals! Jack Hanna should be ashamed that he uses his celebrity status to rally for something that is clearly so destructive and unnatural to elephants and other wild animals. SHAME ON JACK HANNA AND ALL THE SELFISH PEOPLE WHO CONDONE THIS! Put yourselves in these animals positions and ask yourselves if its okay to be exploited in this manner! If this isn't good enough for you to live in, it certainly isn't good enough for these precious animals to live in. If these animals cannot be released into the wild then let them live out their days in proper sanctuaries that have their best interests at heart. Exploitation DOES NOT EQUAL Entertainment!! Exploitation EQUALS Exploitation. Simple as that!!!

CONTRE l'exploitation des éléphants

Ne pas enfermer les éléphants

Pourquoi ne pas laisser le éléphants dans la nature ?

Stop to do pain to animals, there must be laws to protect them! We will boycot such shows for sure!


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