Zookeepers to City Council: Let Billy the elephant stay at the zoo
L.A. Zoo animal keepers are the latest group adding their voices to the debate over Billy, the zoo's lone elephant. They appealed Monday to city officials to vote to complete the zoo's planned $42-million Pachyderm Forest. (Construction on Pachyderm Forest was halted in early December; the City Council is expected to make a final decision on whether to continue the project this Friday.)
The keepers say they have Billy's best interests at heart and are firmly convinced that the zoo is the best place for him. At a sanctuary, they say, Billy would have less exercise and fewer mentally stimulating opportunities than he has at the zoo. The Times' Carla Rivera explains:
The keepers, with a combined 71 years of tending to elephants, said they are uniquely qualified to know what is best for Billy. They said their jobs are not at stake because they could tend to other animals if the exhibit is not completed.
In a refuge or sanctuary, a young bull typically would be separated from the female herd to mirror conditions in the wild and prevent breeding, the keepers said. At the zoo, cows could be acquired for Billy to breed with, helping to ensure preservation of his line and the species, said zookeeper Vicky Guarnett.
"We know this animal and we love this animal," Guarnett said in an interview after the morning news conference in front of the zoo's current elephant exhibit. "He has not fathered another elephant and to send him to a sanctuary where he would not breed would not be the best outcome."
Catherine Doyle of the group In Defense of Animals, a vocal opponent of the Pachyderm Forest project, was quoted as saying that the zookeepers' request amounted to a "sentimental attachment to a particular animal."
But in a letter to the City Council and L.A. residents, signed by more than 80 members of the zoo's staff,the group stated, "We'd send Billy away right now if we believed it was best for Billy. It's not."
-- Lindsay Barnett