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Bob Barker donates $1.5 million for L.A. Zoo elephant

January 26, 2009 |  3:26 pm

Along with about 200 Los Angeles Zoo employees, children and community members gathered today at City Hall, rock guitarist Slash pledged his support for completing the zoo’s Pachyderm Forest. But the opposition had its own celebrity endorsement, this one with a $1.5 million donation, courtesy of former “Price is Right” host Bob Barker.

The planned future home to 23-year-old Billy the elephant, the Pachyderm Forest is a $42-million, 6-acre proposal that began in 2006, but was put on hold a month ago. Some animal-rights activists said the area still would not provide enough roaming room, and Los Angeles City Councilman Tony Cardenas suggested that the zoo’s lone Asian elephant be sent instead to the Performing Animal Welfare Society, a sanctuary in San Andreas.

Cardenas’ office today announced that Barker would donate $1.5 million to help cover the cost of Billy’s transfer to PAWS, where he would join Ruby, a female African elephant who left the L.A. Zoo in 2007 and who also benefited from a $300,000 donation from Barker.

“The thousands of Angelenos who agonized over Billy’s tragic life at the Los Angeles Zoo will rejoice to learn that now Billy will have the opportunity to roam over countless acres at the PAWS sanctuary, living the life that nature intended for him,” Barker wrote in a letter last week to Cardenas.

The arts, parks, health and aging committee has a special meeting scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the issue and will submit a report to City Council, which will meet Wednesday to make a final decision on the project, which has already cost about $12 million.

L.A. Zoo supporters, including Councilman Tom LaBonge, believe the best interest of the endangered elephant lies in finishing the Pachyderm Forest, which is 30% complete. Actress Betty White, TV host Jack Hanna and musician Slash have gotten behind the zoo’s plans.

“It’s really well done,” Slash said on a YouTube video posted last week. “It gives the elephants an amazing amount of room to be able to move around and activities and so on. Plus it’s a beautiful exhibit for the patrons to be able to come see the elephants.”

-- Corina Knoll