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Asian elephants Jewel and Tina to move from San Diego to the L.A. Zoo's new Asian elephant exhibit

October 29, 2010 |  2:15 pm

LAZooElephants

Jewel and Tina, a bonded pair of Asian elephants removed from the care of their Texas owner by the U.S. Department of Agriculture last summer, will soon move to the Los Angeles Zoo to live in its new Elephants of Asia exhibit, it was announced Friday.

The elephants, both females believed to be in their 40s, will make the move from the San Diego Zoo, where they were taken after their removal from Willie Davenport's facility in the east Texas town of Leggett. The animal-rights group In Defense of Animals had long campaigned to have the elephants, along with a third elephant belonging to Davenport, removed from his care for alleged mistreatment and substandard veterinary care.

Davenport agreed to give up Jewel and Tina and pay a $3,000 fine in exchange for the government dropping complaints against him over his failure to procure the proper permits when he bought the elephants in 2006. He kept the third elephant, which had been owned by his family for decades.

Since their arrival at the San Diego Zoo, Jewel and Tina have gained weight -- in Jewel's case, a whopping 1,100 pounds -- and Jewel has received treatment for her abscessed feet and two dental surgeries. San Diego Zoo and L.A. Zoo staff will work together to facilitate the elephants' big move, considered an open-ended loan, and "the San Diego Zoo will provide support staff to help facilitate the transition period for the elephants," according to a statement released by the L.A. Zoo.

Jewel and Tina will join Billy, the only elephant currently in residence at the L.A. Zoo, in the $42-million new exhibit, which is scheduled to open in December.

Construction of the Elephants of Asia exhibit, formerly known as the Pachyderm Forest, has been a contentious issue among animal lovers, many of whom opposed the exhibit and advocated moving Billy to a sanctuary instead. Former game-show host and longtime animal-rights activist Bob Barker even offered to donate $1.5 million to facilitate a move for Billy from the zoo to the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary in San Andreas.

In late 2008, construction of the exhibit was temporarily halted by the L.A. City Council. But a few months later, in January 2009, the council voted to allow work to resume.

For security reasons, zoo officials have not announced the date of the move.

Learn more about Jewel and Tina's move to the L.A. Zoo at The Times' local news blog, L.A. Now.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Jewel, at left, and Tina at the San Diego Zoo. Credit: San Diego Zoo

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