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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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Sadly we need zoos. Man's encroachment on animals natural habitat necessitate these establishments. That being said, why not make the animals, and in this case, the elephants, a safe and as comfortable environment as possible. We will never be able to release these beautiful creatures back to their 'real' homes, so let us give them the very best we can offer. The new development in the LA Zoo is not perfect, but what an improvement. The elephants have long lives, at present the cramped, concrete enclosure is in my opinion, are unspeakable. Give the elephants in captivity The Pachyderm Forest for their dignity, comfort and sanity. Stop wasting time, these arguments have been made, a decision to go ahead was given. Respect that decision.

Thank you for your attention.

To Suzanne C. and Elizabeth Carpenter --

You just are not getting it!!! Let me spell it out for you.

Billy is alone because folks are not allowing the Zoo to go forward with the new Pachyderm Forest... and bring in the new females to be with him!!! The Zoo will start a breeding program. DO YOU UNDERSTAND? Unfortunately, that cannot occur at the sanctuaries. They don't have the funding/support for it.

But that fact aside, male elephants are usually solitary in the wild once they hit maturity. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?

These facts have been stated 100 different ways by 100 different people on this site. Do you understand English?? Are you reading these comments?

Sorry, but it just frustrates me when folks don't read what's already been posted and beaten into the ground!


Dear CreamyDove...

Just to respond to your first point you made to Time2Reflect about Gita's death -- she did not die from arthritis. Her necropsy showed that she died from a blood clot that went straight to her heart. In fact, the health exam she was given shortly before her death showed that the foot surgery the Zoo had performed on her had been successful and the foot was healed!

But interestingly, that was not even mentioned in any of the news stories on her death, so I can't blame you for getting this wrong. I find it pitiful that this, which I understand was the first successful medical correction for that type of foot illness on record, had to be swept under the rug in light of Gita's untimely death. In fact, the L.A. Zoo should have been touting that surgery as a remarkable success and proudly sharing reports of it with the greater veterinary community. But this was not possible because everyone was too busy unfairly blaming the Zoo for her death.

And Billy's head-bobbing is not a "zoogenic illness" as you stated. Billy came from the wild, where he became separated from his mother at an early age in Malaysia during his herd's translocation to a national park. He went to an Elephant Management Unit for a few months with other orphaned calves, and then to a Malaysian zoo where he stayed for a short time. Then, in 1989, he was brought to L.A. Zoo. I've spoken with the keepers and volunteers who worked with Billy at the L.A. Zoo from day one and they have all told me that they saw him "dancing" and "headbobbing" on his first day there. One individual who actually went over to Malaysia to get Billy told me he had seen him dancing in Malaysia too. So, it's likely that Billy started this behavior as a comfort response back in Malaysia after being essentially orphaned.

Today, Billy continues to headbob because he gets fed right afterward. So, it has now become a learned behavior. For Billy, headbobbing gets him food. His headbobbing follows a very predictable pattern and you can witness it if you go to the Zoo just before feeding times... which I have noted to be at about 11:30 AM and about 2-2:30 PM each day. You'll notice that after the feedings, he stops headbobbing. In fact, after 5 pm when the keepers go home -- guess what? No more headbobbing! He's learned there is no point in it after that time because no keepers are around and no feedings will occur after 5 PM.

I'm a research volunteer at the Zoo and I have observed Billy for about 3 years now. There's lots of data on him. You can see it for yourself -- just contact the Research Office. It's all documented. I'm not making this up. Check it out for yourself.

By the way, now that Research understands better what has been controlling Billy's headbobbing, they've been using some behavioral enrichment devices and working with the keepers on that to reduce Billy's headbobbing... and it is working! He used to headbob about 33% of the time. Now, he's down to just 24%. And my guess is that in the new ultra-enriching Pachyderm Forest, we will be able to reduce his headbobbing further. And I'm looking forward to that. You should too.

But, of course, I realize that because I am a Zoo volunteer and because I am stating facts obtained from Zoo employees that nothing I say will be given an ounce of credence. It does not matter that it's true. Just shoot the messenger and ignore the message. That's your system. Just remember, as a volunteer, I have no job to lose at the Zoo. I can go elsewhere. Spewing the "party line" as some call it does me no good.

Creamy Dove,

I agree with your final statement to Time2Reflect that zoos need to evolve. However, I think that is what the L.A. Zoo is trying to do. I think we should let them!

Build the new Pachyderm Forest NOW!!! : >

In response to Mara's comments below, I must point out that the Los Angeles Zoo contributes a considerate amount of money to various conservation programs including Flora and Fauna International which helps the extremely endangerd Cambodian elephants, as well as the Biodiversity & Elephant Conservation Trust which aids the Humann/Elephant Conflict. The L.A. Zoo also contributed to: Giant Panda Conservation Foundation, (Earthquake Relief Effort), Conservation International Rio Primate Center, Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program (bushmeat crisis) and many, many others. FYI

" When I see zoos helping to protect the habitat of animals in the wild rather than trying to increase their own revenue, then I will listen more attentively to their arguments. " Posted by: Mara Smith | January 11, 2009 at 02:28 PM

It is commonly known that elephants are a highly social animal and live in family groups. It is imperative for the mental health of these highly intelligent animals that they have that kind of socialization to avoid stress and depression.
It is also known that elephants need a lot of space to roam around in. In the wild elephant families roam for miles every day which keeps good circulation in the legs and feet. Many elephants must be euthanized at an earlier age than necessary because of foot and leg problems caused by inappropriate types of housing and lack of room to exercise outside.
Please don't Billy suffer in loneliness in an environment alien to his species. Be humane and allow Billy a chance for a happy and fulfilling life with members of his own species.


Stereotypic repetitive behaviors are unheard of in wild elephants according to experts who have studied them there for decades. Arthritis is also unheard of. When a 25 year old elephant develops this condition in a zoo, it is caused by lack of space which, in turn, leads to inadequate exercise. In addition, zoo elephants stand on hard surfaces, either in their barns where many spend most of their time and in their limited enclosures where even earth becomes tightly compacted over time and almost as hard as concrete. These conditions lead not only to arthritis but also chronic foot infections which are the leading causes of premature death in zoo elephants.

Elephants live 60-70 years or more in the wild, but statistically according to the zoo industry's own records, that lifespan is cut roughly in half for zoo elephants. EEHV (Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus) is killing young Asian elephants in zoos at a rate approaching 50%. 76% of Asian elephants born in zoos today aren't making it to their eighth birthday. The zoo industry's industry-wide negligence in failing to practice infection control for the last 13 years has allowed these viruses to spread through the captive populations. Your industry has consigned captive Asian elephants to extinction within your own system. You have passed the point of no return on this.

Clearly, the scientific evidence and grim statistics show that elephants do not thrive in confined captivity. In other words, they don't live in zoos - they die in zoos. And if zoos want to truly claim elephant conservation as their mission, they need to abandon these antiquated and completely self-serving practices that are killing Earth's largest land mammal and focus their resources on real wild elephant conservation efforts. Spending hundreds of millions of dollars maintaining an ever decreasing captive population instead of concentrating on poaching, habitat destruction and human-elephant conflicts in elephants' natural ranges, is wasting precious time that elephants don't have.

To Sunrise-Sunset,

It is entirely possible that Billy began his stereotypical headbobbing while in Malaysia as a result of the trauma of losing his mother. He may suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). However, the fact that his head-bobbing continues to this day indicates that he remains in a stressful environment. And I can assure you that I have visited Billy at the zoo and this is definitely not anticipatory behavior. I have watched keepers bring food out, watched Billy eat the food, then immediately resume his neurotic stereotypical head-bobbing behavior. And I have witnessed this many times, not just once.

You must understand that the proposed "Pachyderm Forest" exhibit will only give the elephants approximately 3.5 acres of outdoor space and, according to the zoo's own plans, will be subdivided into four sections. Therefore, the elephants will have no more than a fraction of an acre of space at any given time. Billy will remian alone. In the wild, male elephants are not totally solitary. They often remain just outside a female herd or not too far from one and socialize with other male elephants. Billy will never have this opportunity at the LA Zoo. He will fulfill the role of a stud for the zoo industry. He will, however, have the opportunity of more space and other male elephants while being near female elephants, at the PAWSARk2000 Sanctuary where they have Nicholas, one of the Hawthorn rescues, and hope to have Ned, another rescue who is currently being rehabilitated at the Elephant Sacntuary in Tennessee. A male Asian elephant needs more than a fraction of an acre and it is unfair for the Zoo to portray this project as one that will address the elephants' spacial needs. Councilmember Cardenas' idea of a sanctuary in the LA hills is intriguing but I would be concerned about the increase in wildfires there.

It is also unfair to the citizens of Los Angeles to portray this new exhibit as a quality enhanced exhibit. It isn't. Angelinos will be over $42 million poorer and there will be little to show for that exorbitant expense. For the elephants and Los Angeles, this boondoggle project should be suspended.

Free Billy. It's insane to think an elephant benefits from being confined to a zoo, especially the LA zoo. The humans should stop being selfish and greedy and do the right thing.

Checkyourfacts| you stated “often think it would be really cool if you and others who share this "advocacy" interest” Yes it would but Zoo Management do not want to work with us. Instead at times they have call us extremists in comments to newspapers or webpapers. This instils fear in the reader. This is how Management thinks of advocates or activists. Yes it would be great but it probably will never happen in my life time.
Are you aware there is a lone elephant in Edmonton Alberta Canada. They have not lost their accreditation - why? A Sanctuary has offered to fly in a vet to check the elephant (who is suffering according to the zoo) at , the Sanctuary's expense. Instead the zoo refused instead they claim to have talked with experts!! Are you aware of the fact Dr Susan Mikota is the most knowledgeable and renowned elephant Vet within North America. This could be the vet the Sanctuary has offered to fly to Edmonton but they refused this help. So are they looking out for Lucy or themselves?
As you stated though we strive for improvements and some zoos, although they do not admit it, hear us and are somewhat improving. I just keep plucking along tiny steps at a time.
Regarding compliance and non compliance, a number of zoos in the US have closed their elephant exhibits, even under the threat of loosing their accreditation. They never did!!
I am glad you called the zoo and got your answer. Then why is it when zoo elephant keeper comes to work and find an elephant “down” in the morning, they are unable to tell how long the elephant has been down, Do they actually have security watching a series of cameras for the elephants and ALL the animals during off hours or is it someone walking around? Seems security is not doing their job then if you can't define the time.
My theory is why have the ankus or commonly referred to as the bull hook? I doubt that if the case was to arise this implement would be of much use to the elephant keeper over a “angry” elephant. So why have it. It has been documented the ankus has been misused and that is why I wish it was banned. In the wrong hands it is a weapon.
You stated. “The most troubling comment I found in your response to my post was your statement that, "AZA Permits physical punishment, including striking, poking and jabbing with a metal ankus” There are documented cases of brutal attacks in zoos against elephants.
I did chuckle when I read “"1.4.2. Outdoor yards must have at least 1,800 sq. ft (167.2 sq. m) for a single adult individual and an additional 900 sq. ft (83.6 sq. m) must be added for each additional animal (AZA 1997).” As I usually state that article # and fact. Then I mention the TAOS guidelines are - each elephant is entitled to a minimum of 2 acres or 9,680 sq. yds. of outdoor space. This is quite a difference.
To answer your question “Why are the anti-zoo advocates attacking L.A. Zoo’s planned space of 6 acres, when that’s MORE space than what they have at the San Diego Wild Animal Park for their elephants? ....... so please answer this one question for me.” Why in simple terms today they have their SSP. At present it will be Billy moving over to the new area. Soon a few females will arrive. Soon there will be baby elephants. How many elephants does the zoo wish to have in this new space. How many will be shipped off as excess stock after awhile. Will you fight hard for these lost gentle giants. You see baby elephants are more appealing to the public so they will move the "older female" Out with the old in with the new!!! How many babies will die an early death from Herpies (sp), the death rate is high for this disease in baby elephants. This particular virus has killed young elephants in zoos across the US and Canada. I would hope zoo management would work first at creating a cure before continuing with their SSP plan and more baby or young elephants die. So I guess you could say it is space!! As it all depends on how many elephants the zoo plans to have in the Pachyderm Forest. Remember the TAOS guidelines are 2 acres per elephant. Within a few years the Pachyderm Forest will be outdated with no room to grow. And where will that leave the citizens of LA, when the zoo wants more money. Where will this leave the animals and elephants who call the LA Zoo home. But the advocates will still be here working and trying to improve the conditions. I do hope it happens in my life time but I doubt it.
Also remember the economy right now is down - way down. Soon even zoos will have to tighten their belts, if they wish to survive. Again where will that leave the elephant?

Creamy Dove,

Well, you may have observed Billy on a "many" occasions, but we have been observing him for YEARS... literally on THOUSANDS of occasions and we have more data on him than you do. That's how science is done -- it's not based on a handful of observations and impressions, but on prolonged and extended data collection. And when you observe Billy, are you taking notes? Are you recording any sort of quantifiable data on his headbobbing? We use timers and scan his behavior at 30-second intervals. That means that every 30 seconds we are recording what he is doing. This continues for 2-hour periods PER OBSERVER. Several observers are scheduled to conduct these 2-hour observations throughout entire days. And as I said, this has been going on for years. That data is categorized in terms of various behaviors. We can take that data and look at significant patterns in Billy's daily activity. And we don't just eyeball these patterns. We run statistical tests on the numbers to see if they are significant -- meaning, that there is an extremely small likelihood that these patterns occurred by chance. This data analysis is done per day, per week, per month, per year, etc. It's a pretty extensive analysis. And that analysis does NOT show that his headbobbing resumes right after he eats on a regular basis. On the contrary, it stops,...and it follows the predictable patterns I described previously.

I would not call his headbobbing "anticipatory" -- although that is how some like to conceptualize it. That's really just a handy label. I would not choose that term because it's mentalistic -- explaining his behavior in terms of something hypothesized to be going on in his head: "anticipation". However, we cannot directly observe "anticipation" inside an animal or human, nor can we directly measure or manipulate it. Similarly, one cannot directly manipulate internal emotions like stress (which you said you thought was causing Billy's headbobbing) to determine whether they are controlling a behavior. That's why we look to environmental variables and attempt to manipulate those, and then observe any effects on the behavior. That's how we determine the true causes of behavior. This is a basic principle of operant conditioning. It may sound boring, but here's the important part....

When reinforcement (e.g., food) follows a behavior (e.g., headbobbing), it can strengthen that behavior. It's really no different from training a dog to come when you call it because you give it food after it comes. That is what has happened over many years with Billy. When he's been headbobbing, he's gotten fed. So, to Billy headbobbing gets him food. I don't mean to turn this into a long tutorial on reinforcement schedules, but if you are interested, pick up a book by B.F. Skinner, "Schedules of Reinforcement". It's very interesting and practical for understanding everyday behaviors, whether in humans or other animals.

I just want folks to know that Billy is not stressed out and there is no traumatic stuff happening to him at the L.A. Zoo. What started as a comfort behavior when he was a calf has now become a learned one. His headbobbing is not harmful to him, by the way. I understand that folks don't like to see it because it looks "unnatural". I agree, it does LOOK unnatural -- and that's why the Zoo has been using various behavioral enrichment (B.E.) techniques to reduce that behavior. These methods distract Billy away from headbobbing and then once he is engaged in a different, natural behavior, reinforcement is provided. This is called differential reinforcement of other behavior, and it can be quite effective in reducing undesirable behavior. Best of all, it uses positive reinforcement. So, to put it mentalistically, it's a "pleasant" experience for the animal.

If the headbobbing WERE purely due to stress (an internal emotion) from just being in a zoo as you say, I highly doubt that those behavioral enrichment (B.E.) techniques would not be working as well as they have to reduce headbobbing as much as they have.

I really do believe that Billy's best hope for reducing his headbobbing is to stay at the L.A. Zoo where keepers and research staff understand his behavior and have the best chance of improving it.

My honest prediction is that if Billy goes to a sanctuary, I would fully expect his headbobbing to continue there as well... as long as feeding times occur on any sort of schedule, and as long as no one uses any training intervention to correct Billy's behavior. I hope we don't have to gamble away his chances and send him off to a sanctuary for us to find out if I am right. That's quite a gamble.

You can send him to PAWS and he can go off on his own and headbob in private and then no one has to watch him anymore. Maybe that will make everyone feel better -- out of sight, out of mind. And my guess is that PAWS won't be gathering data on him anymore, so no one will know what he's doing anyway. However, like you, I do care about Billy, and I would like to see him reduce that headbobbing behavior and start engaging in other more naturalistic activities. To this end, I think finding female mates would be very helpful for him. And as many others have noted on this blog, the L.A. Zoo would be bringing in females for Billy. One thing we've noticed in his headbobbing data is that he headbobs more when he is in musth. That is, the surge of testosterone during musth seems to increase his headbobbing... which makes sense given what we know about how testosterone affects males. So, regular mating could very well help reduce his headbobbing. I won't put this in human terms because it could get a little X-rated. : >

I know we will never see eye-to-eye on this, Creamy Dove. That's OK. I appreciate your willingness to dialogue here. Afterall, it's one of the few arenas for any real discussion of this issue.


bcelefan- I don't think the Edmonton zoo is accredited. I believe there are 3 accredited sanctuaries that house elephants, and they don't adhere to every one of their standards either, especially the one in Texas run by HSUS that houses a solo elephant. That doesn't mean they are bad places, it means they are setting the bar higher. Few zoos are setting out to meet the minimum standards in anything they do. I would point out a very important word in your response which is "guideline". Anyone in these sanctuaries or zoos can look at their "guidelines" as a template to follow, but you will find in just about every facility there's a guideline they are not quite up to par with. I do want to clear up this rallying cry regarding zoos that have given up their elephants. It's touted as strictly a moral issue, when the truth is so many of these zoos didn't have the resources, nor even a fraction of the space that LA has to dedicate to these animals. Not every zoo can or should have elephants, and just like animal collections vary from zoos to zoos that one might visit, you're not always going to see elephants. The zoos that chose to move in another direction, had much more to do with not being able to raise the funds or wanting to dedicate a major portion of space to other animals. That's not the case with LA who has the funding and has the space. As for the ankus and abuse, I think it's easy to cite an incident from 10 years ago and frame it as an industry standard. That's not the case and certainly not tolerated. It happens, but not in aza-accredited facilities and if it did, they would not be around for long.


I am curious, If there was no LA Zoo to visit :
1. Where would Angelinos go instead?
(Remember we want to discourage driving to reduce global warming)

2. Where would Angelinos connect with and learn about elephants without being glued to a TV or computer screen.
(Remember most people can't afford to travel to africa, asia or many even another city. Air travel is a major contributor to global warming.)

Zoos are city's sanctuaries and need their citizens involvement and support to constantly improve, like all aspects of city life. Good luck LA.

does Billy the L.A zoo seem happy and healthy to you?
are we having elephants in zoos for their sake or our own?...humans are supposily superior then other animals because of their compassion. It is our moral duty to care humanly for other beings,doing whatever we can FOR THE BENEFIT OF THOSE BEINGS WHO DO'NT HAVE THE ABILITY TO PROTECT THEMSELVES!

It's insane to think an elephant benefits from being confined a zoo. elephants need large spaces, trees, water, companions... they need to be free. The humans should stop being selfish and do the right thing.

Fifteen elephants have died at the L.A. Zoo. More than half never lived to age 20. Elephants have a natural lifespan of 60-70 years.

Billy is held in solitary confinement, where he spends his days repetitively bobbing his head up and down in a tiny zoo pen. Moving to a sanctuary means he will be able to start a new life in a natural-habitat sanctuary where he'll have the space and natural conditions that all elephants so desperately need.

Sunrise-Sunset. Your attempts to intellectualize Billy's neurotic stereotypical behavior will not overcome the facts. You stated in your previous post that Billy started the headbobbing in Malaysia when he was "separated from his mother during his herd's translocation to a national park." You also mentioned that you spoke with an individual who "went to Malaysia to get Billy". Whenever an elephant mother is migrating, she is very careful to protect and keep her calf close to her. It is far more likely that Billy was intentionally taken from his mother. Poaching in Asia has been a lucrative business and baby elephants are sold at premium prices to zoos and circuses in the West. I find this history to be more than a little disturbing.

If you really believe Billy's headbobbing is "anticipatory" or "learned", then simply stop feeding him when he does it. Wait for his headbobbing to stop (if it ever does since he has done it almost continuously when I have observed him at length) and then provide him with food as a reward for not doing it. The reason his headbobbing is worse in musth is because the surge of testosterone increases the stress in a male elephant. If he is already stressed, this increased testosterone will increase the already existent stress reaction. In fact, this helps to reinforce the theory that the behavior is a stress behavior, since if it is solely learned behavior in order to get food, then why would the testerone increase the behavior?

This behavior and other stereotypies disappear at sanctuaries when the elephant is once again allowed to live like a normal elephant with enough space, freedom of choice and are freed from confinement and human regimentation. Unfortunately, as I said in a previous post, the so-called "Pachyderm Forest" exhibit will only give about 3.5 acres of outdoor space to the elephants divided into four subdivisions which means they will still only have a fraction of an acre of space at any given time. Billy will continue to be housed alone. He will serve out his undeserved sentence in a small yard being used as a stud to obtain baby elephants who will die before their time since Asian elephants born in zoos are dying at the rate of 76% before their 10th birthday. What a wonderful existence for them to look forward to. Billy will be stuck in the middle of a smog-bound city with people like you gawking at him and timing his neurotic stereotypies with stop watches and writing notes in your notebook. He will die before his time as well. It's sad that, in too many cases, these incarcerated victims can only gain their freedom from human selfishness and ignorance by dying.

Rocky Edmonton Valley Zoo is accredited by CAZA.

Dear L.A. Times,

How much longer is this vote going to continue? It's been over a week.

Guess this debate is good for your business, eh?

This comment pertains to my and Rocky's prior responses to bcelefan regarding the Valley Zoo accreditation situation. Just got an e-mail back from the Valley Zoo in Edmonton, Canada, and they say they are NOT AZA-accredited (which makes sense since they are in Canada). Instead, they are accredited by the Canadian Assoc. of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA). I have not looked into the guidelines/standards for CAZA and do not know how they work. However, the original point I made that the L.A. Zoo could lose its AZA accreditation if it were to send Billy to a sanctuary without AZA approval was specific to AZA accreditation... just for clarification. So, whatever may be going on at the Valley Zoo in Canada with their elephant and any effects on their accreditation has no bearing on that point. Valley Zoo is under CAZA, not AZA.

The bottom line is that ELEPHANTS NEED SPACE and the zoo CANNOT PROVIDE IT.

Needless to say, elephants in zoos is a controversial topic, even for those of us that support zoos.

Many zoos with "deplorable" conditions are still existing from the old menageries used to "display" animal collections. As you can see, it costs millions of dollars to build bigger and better enclosures that simulate natural environments. North American zoos are constantly trying to improve their facilities to provide the best possible conditions for their animals.

Although the ideal situation would be that all animals could live freely in the wild, the rapid decrease of species throughout the world due to natural and human causes have called zoos to take action. To sit back and watch a species become extinct would be apathetic and irresponsible especially when it is due to human encroachment, poaching and habitat destruction. AZA-accredited zoos do not remove their animals from the wild but breed them in captivity to propogate the population. Although it would obviously be better for each species population to recover on its own in its natural habitat, many species have reached the point of critically endangered and human intervention is necessary for the survival of the species. The captive bred animals are integral to breeding programs that support conservation and ultimately provide educational opportunities to zoo visitors.

Many people have made personal connections with an individual animal while visiting a zoo that has encouraged them to support organizations that can make a difference. Just think, if you had never seen an elephant, would you even care what happened to Billy?

example 8 Apr 2005 Detroit Zoo, closed their elephant exhibit and did NOT loose their accreditation after Wanda and Winky go to PAWS. "Just as polar bears don't thrive in a hot climate, Asian elephants shouldn't live in small groups without many acres to roam," stated Detroit Zoo director Ron Kagan.

Checkyourfacts - I did state Edmonton Zoo is CAZA at 12:26pm prior to your statement

Creamy Dove -- You don't get it. The keepers cannot just stop feeding Billy and wait for his headbobbing to stop. Over 20 years of being at L.A. Zoo his feeding schedule has fluctuated enough (different keepers, different curators, etc.) that he has essentially been on a variable-ratio reinforcement feeding schedule for the past 20 years. It's true that he is currently being fed at more reliable times of the day -- that is part of the way the keepers are trying to corrent the behavior now that we understand it. However, in the past, before we had all the data on his headbobbing and how related it is to feeding times, that schedule fluctuated, making feeding times less "predictable" for Billy. Such intermittent reinforcement maintains high levels of responding, and makes behavior very resistant to extinction. So, when the keepers just show up and wait for Billy to stop two things happen: 1) The keepers' very presence sets off his headbobbing because the presence of keepers has been paired with presentation of food for so many years -- they literally signal "headbob" to Billy -- like a green light tells us to "go". 2) While standing there waiting for Billy to stop, the keepers are witholding food. This has ethical ramifications. Billy is a large animal and wants to eat. The keepers could wait all day, but as long as Billy sees, hears, or smells them nearby, he will headbob because of their mere presence! Then, you have the fact that, the keepers have to eventually feed him each day -- they cannot starve Billy! So, then, they have to break down and feed him... and what does that do? That just reinforces the fact that Billy headbobbed even longer than normal and then got what he wanted -- so then, he learns to persist until he gets fed. This is not the way to go.

You see? It's not as simple as you say -- just wait for him to stop headbobbing and then feed him. That does not work. That's why we have to distract him from the headbobbing, get him doing something else, like foraging from a ball or tire or wheel, and then he gets his food from that source.

You say I am over-intellectualizing Billy's behavior, but all I'm trying to show is that his behavior is like any other animals' and it follows the same principles of learning. Billy is not "psychotic" -- he just needs re-conditioning. And that is what the keepers are trying to do now.

And by the way, testosterone is NOT a stress hormone. It is an activity hormone -- it increases activity levels in males. You must be thinking of cortisone or something.

Billy was not TAKEN from his mother according to the gentleman I spoke with in Malaysia who gave me the report of his herd's translocation. Now, if you want to call that guy a liar, fine. I realize, that you don't believe anyone whose facts contradict your own beliefs. It's obvious.

Finally, you wrote: "This behavior and other stereotypies disappear at sanctuaries when the elephant is once again allowed to live like a normal elephant with enough space, freedom of choice and are freed from confinement and human regimentation." REALLY? So, give all of us some specific examples of this. What specific elephants went to PAWS with all the stereotypic behaviors you are talking about, and are now not exhibiting any of them?

bcelfan -- Good for you. You do realize that there is quite a time delay on the posting of comments, right? So, your Valley Zoo info. did not show up on my computer until just a few minutes ago, some time after my post regarding that zoo. Just so ya know....

This is really getting petty. I'm done.

The only people left discussing on this site are now the hardcore activists vs. zoo advocates. And we all know that no battle will be won here. So, there's really no point to any of us wasting our time commenting to brick walls. We have better things to do.

I'm afraid you're the one who doesn't "get it"! I was being facetious when I suggested you withhold food until Billy stops headbobbing. He will stop headbobbing when he gets out of the LA Zoo and his completely unnatural existence there.

And by the way, I know testosterone is not a stress hormone, but it will exacerbate a stress behavior that already exists. In addition, I was not thinking of "cortisone" since the stress hormone is "cortisol". Okay?

I also noticed that you didn't deal with my reiteration of the spatial limitations of the new "Pachyderm Forest" exhibit. It is dishonest for the LA Zoo to promote this exhibit as one that will significantly increase the space available to elephants including Billy. It will not.

Look, I agree with Checkyourfacts, this argument is over. No amount of facts that I present to you will change your mind because you are thoroughly entrenched in the groups think and group speak of the zoo industry. But I would urge you to step back from your position and reclaim your critical thinking skills. The zoo industry's own grim statistics, the studies that show elephants are dying in zoos, the expert testimony of researchers like Dr. Joyce Poole reveal the facts. Councilman Tony Cardenas is right. Elephants don't live in zoos - they die in zoos. And the LA Zoo's "Pachyderm Forest" project is nothing other than a $42 million elephant mortuary. Please try to remember that when you "observe" Billy dying by inches each day while you time his headbobbing and log your entries into your notebook.

First off i think that Councilman Tony Cardenas is so wrong for saying. Elephants don't live in zoos - they die in zoos. the same thing can be said about sanctuaries. " Elephants dont live in sanctuaries they die in sanctuaries.
i have gone online and it also show elephants that have died in sanctuaries and didn't even make it to there 40's. Can anyone tell me how that can be better living? Also i hate how people been saying that the only resaon that the zoo wants to keep billy is to get more money. I also went to a sanctuary website and the page is cover of them asking people for money. Also the zoo does not ask people to pay $200 so see and elephant. how will the people of los angeles get to see these great animals. Most of us can't even pay for cable or the web. You people say that the zoo dose not care about billy. How can you say that. Have you talked to his keepers? Have you seen first hand that is not being taken well care of? Have you even been to the zoo? Yes i know that where he is right now is not the best place but for years the zoo wants to give him a new home. I don't know why poeple say zoo's are evil. the zoo is trying hard to save animals and has give so much to help wild animals. If you really cared about billy you would not take him away from his family. I don't think if i came to your house and told you that i was going to move you to a bigger house because you will be happy, but you will never see your family what would you say. Would you say hell yes or hell no. Because if billy is sent to a sanctuary you will be taking him away from his family. So i ask you to step aside and let the zoo finish his new home. You wanted him to have more space two years ago and the zoo did that. Why are you now not happy with what you wanted.

Unfortunately they also die in sanctuaries. A few days ago the sanctuary in Tennesee lost their 33 African elephant suddenly. For some reason it is not on their main website, but instead under their African elephant diary. It's a sad thing, but people shouldn't be bashing zoos because elephants pass away. Four have passed away in sanctuaries in the past 10 months, and several had no signs of illness. Personally I feel for them, but there seems to be a number of hypocrites only talking about zoos. The reality is animals die, they just tend to get more exposure in zoos for some reason.

Checkyoufacts - I want to thank you for sharing your info and listening "to the other side". That is how elephant advocates and the zoo industry will learn from each other. Maybe one day it will happen!!
I too had given up but just checked this one last time thought I would say thanks to you!! You did not attack you shared your info.

Here's a little film about elephants in a sanctuary that I found enlightening:


This is so sad and should not be allowed !

There are so many posts here I was unable to read them all. However, someone asked how breeding animals in zoos is helping conservation and would the resultant babies be sent back to live in the wild. The answer is that that is the ultimate hope and goal for many of the nation's zoo breeding programs. There have already been a number of successes in that area with other species. Condor chicks have been hatched in zoos and successfully reintroduced to the wild. A few rhinos have been released in protected areas of their natural habitats, and several other species as well.

And, while there are people in the zoo business who just want to make money, it is usually the people who's JOB it is to just make money. Taking care of all of those animals takes money, so someone has to be responsible for that end of the issue. The same is true of sanctuaries. Just about every page of the Tennessee elephant sanctuary web page urges people to make donations. They are not asking this (the zoos or the sanctuaries) because they are greedy. Think about having a pet, a child, or anyone who does not earn their own money in your care. It takes money to feed, house, and care for them. This is just the way things are. So saying that zoos are in the business of making money is, in that respect, true. But the majority of the people involved in animal care do it because they genuinely care for, respect, and want to protect animals.

Finally, many animals that come to the zoo arrive sick or injured, and are being "rescued" from bad situations. The rhino currently at the LA zoo was, I believe, brought in from the wild after having her horn cut off by poachers. I truly wish that we didn't have to have zoos or sanctuaries. However, until we as a species stop hunting and harming animals, and stop taking their food and demolishing their habitats for our own gain, places like that must exist. So perhaps, rather than expending our energy arguing about Billy, we should be making better use of our time saving the elephants' habitat.

To CreamyDoyle,
As you accuse zoo advocates of 'group-think,' you parrot the slogans of Cardenas and the IDA! (Or perhaps you coined them yourself.) Shouting 'Elephants don't live in zoos, they die in zoos' may be effective in getting you a few seconds of airtime on the local news, but we all know it's ridiculous. Elephants die in sanctuaries, too, often quite young. But we don't talk about them, do we? Or, we conveniently blame those deaths on their prior treatment. Elephants die in the wild, too, often quite violently. Does ida contribute financially or with manpower to anti-poaching efforts? habitat preservation? human-elephant conflict mitigation? Zoos do.

Billy, like other elephants, are social beings and should not live in isolation. Animals are born free and should be able to roam the earth without any interference from mankind.

Please send Billy to a sanctuary so that he may live his life in a natural environment and in peace and freedom.

I do not understand why people cannot use common sense with some of these issues.

Move the elephant, keep him there… no matter where you stand there seems to be a large level of stupidity floating around here. Though I must say that the keep him there people seem to understand things far better.

People keep trying to use the argument of zoos are bad for elephants because they live to be 60s-70s in the wild yet die more around their 40s-50s in captivity. The 60-70 age range is a MAX people, it is NOT the average lifespan. For example humans can live to be 90-110 years old, but most live to their 60-80s. Wild or captive the average elephant does not live to their 60s-70s, it is just they have the potential to live that long and that is the oldest elephants have been recorded at. All animals, including humans have two sets of age ranges… one is the max and one is the average. People here keep trying to switch the two, does not work that way folks.

Another thing that seems to constantly be missed is the argument of how much space elephants require. In captivity any animal requires less space because they have all their food and water constantly supplied. In the wild elephants need more space because they need to travel that far to find food and water. Of course it is not healthy to stick an animal in a tiny enclosure, but come on, right or wrong… the two “needs” are very different.

On top of that why is it that people do not understand this elephant is male. Asian males are on their own for the most part and really only have interaction with others when they are calves or breeding. Though he is currently alone at the zoo, more elephants will be brought in once the exhibit is built. In a sanctuary he wont have that chance mainly for the fact that they are not permitted to breed in such places. Yes he might be able to see, smell, or hear other elephants at the sanctuary but he will not have the interaction with others that he would have at the zoo. Perhaps people do not understand how most sanctuaries work… though the vast majority are very nice it is not some place where they can do whatever they want. There is still a great deal of control of what the animals can and cannot do.

I dunno, it just seems like there are a ton of ignorant people out there who keep sending this conversation in rules. Perhaps they are just bull (ha ha ha get it bull, bull elephant) headed in their opinions or that they are just too stupid to absorb what is being said or simple facts.

And what is the deal with all these “free the elephant” people? In a zoo or sanctuary he is still not “free” and if they set him “free” he would die. Sillyness.

To BreezyBear:
I don't know who "CreamyDoyle" is but I'm assuming you were addressing your remarks to me. I heard LA City Councilman, Tony Cardenas, state that "Elephants don't live in zoos - they die in zoos" and referred to the new elephant exhibit as a $42 million "elephant mortuary". I saw this on YouTube and these statements struck a chord with me because I think he is right. I also think he is courageous for standing up to tell the truth. He felt differently before, but kept an open mind and changed it when he was given new evidence apparently. As for whether IDA contributes to elephant conservation projects, I don't know the answer to that. Why don't you ask them?

To Confused:

Judging from your statements, I think you picked a good screen name. LOL!! Last word! (Hopefully!)


Who cares about this poll....just because there are more people that are either completely stupid or completely selfish does NOT make enslaving another living being OK. This is wrong, the zoos, KNOW it and so does the public...These animals are NOT ok in the zoo, they are sick and depressed...but go ahead...go to the zoo with your kiddies and show them cruelty and disrespect...then wonder why the world is the way it is...
“The birds and fish and animals cannot speak but they can suffer, and our God, who created them, knows their suffering and will hold he who causes them to suffer to answer for it.” George Cannon

****I think people have a hard time seeing the zoo for what it really is which is understandable most of us grow up with the thought of a zoo as a good place that takes care of animals when in reality this is not the case. If the zoos top priority were the animals they would have no problem sending him to sanctuary which is the best place for him. Grant it some animals may be ok at the zoo but Billy is not. Let's evolve as a society. This about right & wrong. Shouldn't be about money. The only who will end up truly paying for it if left in zoos hands will be Billy.

Freedom for Billy Now!
"Until he extends the circle of compassion to all living things, Man will not himself find peace."
-Dr. Albert Schweitzer

I went to hear Dr. Jared Diamond speak at UCLA last night as he gave the first in their series of "Darwin Lectures" at the Fowler Museum. His talk was quite enlightening and he gave numerous examples of how societies and cultures evolve. He explained how environmental and social pressures select out cultural practices in true Darwinian fashion. It made me think about this elephant debate.

I think that in this debate, we are seeing similar environmental pressures on zoos and how they are shaping the evolution of these institutions. Others have said it similarly here before me, but I think that just as we permit other fields to progress and evolve, we should give the same opportunity to zoos. I think L.A. Zoo is trying to move forward and advance itself with its elephant program and a new, larger habitat for elephants. We should allow them to do so.

Zoos are a part of our current culture, and like other aspects of our society, they will evolve if we let them. Otherwise, they will simply disappear, and they know that. Strong zoos that are able to adapt to the changing needs of their animals and the community will survive. Others will not. I would like to see L.A. Zoo survive and provide the best care and habitat it can for its elephants in the Pachyderm Forest.

The LA Zoo and its supporters are selfish? Working to protect and preserve an extremely endangered species is selfish? Contributing large amounts of money and expertise to protect endangered species and habitats in the wild is selfish? Building a multimillion dollar home for Asian elephants for conservation and education is selfish? Sounds like a noble mission to me. Unfortunately for Billy, his new home is taking too long. Hopefully city council will respond favorably to the masses with a vote to move forward on this state of the art enclosure to benefit Billy and those who support him.

I think if you really look at the elephant you can see clearly this elephant is not happy. Would you be behind chains and bars? This elephant life is like a bird in a cage. A bird is meant to fly and the elephant is built for walking long distances during the course of a normal day at least 25 to 40 miles per day. Not standing on cement. It is a very social structured animal and needs companionship. Elephants get depressed and have stress just like humans. How by seeing an animals in captivity in lockdown is a public service is beyond me. It is a public service to me to see that humans are cruel and insensitive to Gods beautiful creatures. Humans have a lot to learn, very sad to say. Bless you dear elephant. I'll pray for your freedom to come soon.

Wow! Suzanne Jeanine!
You seem to be the epitome of zoo apologist mindless nonsense. You think keeping elephants in small zoo yards is going to save them from extinction?! Wow! The zoo industry itself debunked that so-called Noah's Ark theory 13 years ago, admitting that species like elephants would have to be saved in heir natural ranges.

Elephants in zoos are there to make money for the zoos. They know it isn't good for the elephants, but their exploitative mindset won't allow them to stop keeping them in places that kill them by degrees each day. Too bad that humans are so inherently selfish. That always holds sway with them. The animals are always toast when selfish humans want to make more money.

Zoos aren't about elephant conservation. They're about profits.......Free the elephant, Billy!

There has been a lot of good fact and miserable misconceptions presented in this blog. But none of our talk will get Billy's new home built.

I suggest everyone who believes, as I do, that Billy should stay in L.A. and the construction delays should be ended, now also speak up with your wallet. It is easy to make a donation to the L.A. Zoo for Billy (I just did). Indicate your gift is In Honor of Billy and his new digs (or something to that effect) and filll in an amount your are comfortable giving..

Barack Obama's campaign showed us that individuals pooling their caring and small contributions can make good things happen. And it gives the L.A. Zoo another level of backing to prove their point.

I am not up to date with this my friends are and asked me to vote. Would this Elephant be able to survive among other elephants? I want what is best for the Elephant. I am sending Love & Prayers for the Elephants Higher Good. Amen
Glenda Abell

Darwinian said
" I would like to see L.A. Zoo survive and provide the best care and habitat it can for its elephants in the Pachyderm Forest."

Uh, this is an oxymoron. The best care and habitat for the elephants won't be found in the LA Zoo's so-called
Pachyderm Forest exhibit. I can't believe how little the elephants would have after $42 million is spent. Unless the zoo can provide at least 20 acres of habitat with variety, the only quality thing it can do for them is send them to a sanctuary. C'mon, give it up guys!

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