To: Los Angeles City Council
From: Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles
Date: January 22, 2018
RE: Statement in support of Motion to Release Billy the Elephant from the Los Angeles Zoo
- Elephant Needs
As copious long-term research documents, Elephants live within a closely related herd of 20 – 30 individuals of all ages and both sexes, with thousands of acres to share with other groups comprising the expansive herds that historically roamed over the African and Asian continents (Poole & Granli, 2009). For example, a study assessing the range of Asian Elephants in their natural habitats found that Elephants cover an area of at least 600 km (373 miles) (Williams, 2009). Moreover, the myth that male Elephants are solitary has been debunked by researchers in the field. Males flourish within a social community that includes lasting bonds with other male Elephants, as well as interaction with females and juveniles on a regular basis (O’Connell, 2016; Lee & Moss, 2009). According to Lee & Moss, “males are not asocial; they associate regularly with female groups, form groups with other males and have consistent male associates in those groups.” (2009, p. 27). Research has shown that adult male elephants in the wild spend 50% of their time with other males, 25% of their time with females, and 25% of their time alone, usually when searching for potential mates (Poole Declaration, 2008).
From the perspective of science, the Los Angeles Zoo does not provide anything close to an appropriate environment to meet the physical and social needs of Elephants. The Elephants of Asia Exhibit does not meet their most basic requirements for space, exercise, socialization, privacy, and psychological wellness. In addition, the zoo is located near a freeway in a major city. The inescapable noise pollution has a negative impact on the sensitive acoustical adaptations Elephants have developed for life in their natural habitats. Their feet are incredibly sensitive and able to receive communications through seismic vibrations (O’Connell, 2015). Clearly, even the new, improved Elephant exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo falls far short of providing a healthy, stimulating environment for the residents. In fact, “no zoos come close to meeting the lower range of environmental or social parameters that exist in nature.” (Poole & Granli, 2009, p. 6).
- Facts on Los Angeles Zoo Elephants of Asia Exhibit (Also, see Fact Sheet, attached)
The Elephants of Asia exhibit includes 4 outdoor corrals surrounding a large barn, with stalls for 11 Elephants. During the day, Billy is moved between the small corrals that are separated by metal gates, fencing, and electric wires. He never has access to more than one enclosure at a time and the largest corral is only about 1 acre (Attachment A). The enclosures have pools of standing water with cement bottoms and the flooring of the barn is mostly cement. It is well documented that hard substrates have a devastating effect on Elephant feet and joints causing a myriad of physical problems. (See, Miller, Hogan, et al., 2016, who report: “results demonstrate that one of the main housing risk factors for increased foot and musculoskeletal abnormalities was time spent on hard surfaces”.) Vegetation surrounds the enclosures, but is fenced off from the Elephants. The small amount of vegetation in the enclosure is wrapped with electric wires. There is very little shade and temperatures can soar into the triple digits in summer and early fall. Billy’s hay box, where he feeds during the day, is attached to the fence close to the viewing platform. He is forced to come close to people to eat his hay and there is no shade anywhere near the hay box. On July 22, 2016, Billy was observed standing in the sun for at least 2 hours in order to eat his hay with no relief from the triple digit heat except a standing pool of water with a cement bottom.
In a declaration filed with the Los Angeles Superior Court in 2008 in support of the plaintiff’s case in Leider v. City of Los Angeles, Dr. Joyce Poole, member of the Scientific Advisory Committee for the Amboseli Elephant Research Project, stated: “ [T]he current and proposed exhibits at the Los Angeles Zoo cannot and will not be able to provide a healthy and humane environment for any of their elephants, regardless of how many millions of dollars they spend to make the area look nice to human observers.”
- Captive breeding
Billy has been forced to endure a highly invasive procedure to collect his semen for the purpose of artificially inseminating females held in other zoos to breed captive baby Elephants, or what zoo proponents call “increasing the North American herd.” According to zoo documents, Billy underwent training for and/or the actual semen collection process at least 55 times between January 20, 2011 and November 14, 2014 (Attachment B). The zoo did not produce any records of the procedure being performed after that date; however, in a meeting on January 8, 2016, and in more recent statements to the press, John Lewis, Director of the Los Angeles Zoo, was very clear that they plan to continue efforts to breed Billy.
The zoo records do not describe the procedure in detail, but it appears that a human stands on a stool and inserts a hand and forearm into Billy’s rectum in order to message his prostrate. The procedure can also include warm water enemas. The procedure lasts between 10 – 15 minutes. According to the records, and Mr. Lewis, the zoo has been unsuccessful in collecting a semen sample. Contrary to the zoo’s assertion that Billy is “never” restrained, Billy is placed in what is called “the squeeze” or is locked in what is called the “ERD” for semen collection and other procedures (Attachment B).
In addition, the zoo hopes to bring in younger females as potential mating partners for Billy which will further compromise the limited space in the exhibit. These efforts continue even though captive breeding of Elephants in North American zoos is notoriously unsuccessful and reproductive issues are rampant (Brown, Paris, et al., 2016). There are many reasons that it is extremely difficult to breed Elephants in captivity, from female hormonal dysfunction and lack of genetic diversity, to infant rejection and infanticide.
The artificial insemination and forced breeding in zoos does not help Animals in the wild, but instead, increases zoo profits by luring the public to see baby animals. A more sustainable use of resources would be to develop and fund measures to protect wild populations of Animals in their home environments where they can live and raise families in a natural, dignified manner.
- Effect on Billy’s Physical Health
In a recent study of Elephants held in North American zoos conducted by researchers affiliated with zoos and in cooperation with zoos, including the Los Angeles Zoo, researcher Cheryl Meehan and co-authors admit: “Evidence that welfare is not optimal among zoo elephants includes reported high rates of stereotypic behavior, a high prevalence of ovarian acyclicity, various health issues such as obesity, tuberculosis, herpes, and foot problems, and compromised survivorship.” (Meehan, Mench, et al., 2016; see also, Clubb, Rowcliffe, et al., 2008).
Moreover, research shows that “[c]aptive elephants in North America frequently exhibit a number of illnesses that are either not experienced at all by their wild counterparts, or not experienced at the same frequency. These diseases therefore create a lack of well-being in elephants that is a direct consequence of captivity.” (Kaufman & Martin, 2009, p, 71).
It is well documented that Billy exhibits the stereotypic behavior, referenced in the Meehan study, that indicates poor welfare. A complete assessment of Billy by a qualified professional not affiliated with the AZA is necessary to fully understand the impact of Billy’s captive living conditions on his physical health and well-being.
- Effect on Billy’s Psychological Health
Due to the disparity between his natural environment and the artificial prison where he lives, the violent rupture of his attachment to his mother, and the destruction of his complex Elephant social life and all ties to Elephant culture, Billy shows the classic signs of complete psychological breakdown, evidenced by his repetitive swaying and bobbing motions in the corner of his enclosure. Science has established that Elephants possess brain structures and mental and emotional capacities comparable to our own (Bradshaw, 2009). Like a human political prisoner, Billy is suffering from profound physical and psychological trauma, as well as recurrent relational trauma, played out again and again as different females come and go in his life (Bradshaw, 2009; Shore, 2009).
In a statement prepared for the Los Angeles City Mayor and Councilmembers, Dr. Gay Bradshaw and Dr. Lori Marino reported that “Billy’s head bobbing is consistent with severe mental and emotional distress documented in caged animals and imprisoned humans.” Bradshaw also stated that this behavior has “never been reported in over 34,000 sightings of wild elephant groups.” (2009, p. 62).
In a recent study of the health and well-being of captive-held Elephants in North America, researchers reported that stereotypic behaviors (such as Billy’s head bobbing) were the second highest behavior observed during the study (second only to feeding) and are “considered one of the most important behavioral indicators of compromised welfare.” (Greco, Meehan, et al., 2016). For further discussion of chronic stress and related health problems plaguing Elephants in captivity see, Kaufman & Martin, 2009.
There is no justification for the captivity of this highly complex, intelligent, and social species, especially since research shows that Elephants experience psychological suffering in captivity comparable to that of humans. When subjected to the deprivations and threats of captivity, Elephants and humans acquire symptoms of PTSD (Bradshaw, 2009). Bradshaw observes, “From the perspective of neuroethology, captivity itself is the formative source of trauma and threat to ill health.” (2009, p. 63).
Please see the expert statement by Dr. Gay Bradshaw, attached hereto as Attachment C.
- Difference Between Zoo and Sanctuary
An accredited sanctuary grounded in best practices and trauma recovery is the best option for Elephants such as Billy since both captive conditions and environmental degradation have made it impossible for them to return to their natural homes. Although still captivity, the philosophical and physical differences between a zoo and a true sanctuary are evident. Beyond the focus on space, privacy, healing, and self-determination, sanctuaries “seek to put themselves out of business by advocating to end the kinds of use and abuse that result in animals requiring sanctuary in the first place.” (Emmerman, 2014, p. 225).
In such an environment, Billy would have acres to roam with autonomy, dignity, and privacy. As opposed to the zoo industry which operates as a money-making venture at the expense of individual Animals, true sanctuary exists in service to Animals that have been exploited and abused for human profit and entertainment. Sanctuary provides psychological and physical healing, peace, privacy, self-determination, companionship, dignity, all the things Billy deserves and is deprived of in his current living conditions.
Bradshaw, G. A. (2009). Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us About Humanity. New Haven, CT & London, UK: Yale University Press.
Brown, J. L., Paris, S., Prado-Oviedo, N. A., Meehan, C. L., Hogan, J. N., Morfeld, K. A., et al. (2016). Reproductive health assessment of female elephants in North American zoos and association of husbandry practices with reproductive dysfunction in African elephants (Loxodonta africana). PLoS ONE 11(7): e0145673. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0145673.
Clubb, R., Rowcliffe, M., Lee, P., Mar, K. U., Moss, C. & Mason, G. J. (2008). Compromised survivorship in zoo elephants. Science, 322:1649.
Elephants at the L.A. Zoo, http://www.lazoo.org/elephants.
Emmerman, K. S. (2014). Sanctuary, not remedy: The problem of captivity and the need for moral repair. In L. Gruen (Ed.), The Ethics of Captivity (pp. 213-230). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Greco, B. J., Meehan, C. L., Hogan, J. N., Leighty, K. A., Mellen, J., Mason, G. J., et al. (2016). The days and nights of zoo elephants: Using epidemiology to better understand stereotypic behavior of African Elephants (Loxodonta africana) and Asian Elephants (Elephas maximus) in North American zoos. PLoS ONE 11(7): e0144276.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0144276.
Kaufman, G. & Martin, J. (2009). Health as an indicator of well-being in captive elephants. In D. L. Forthman, L. F. Kane, D. Hancocks, & P. F. Waldau (Eds.), An Elephant in the Room: The Science and Well-Being of Elephants in Captivity (pp. 69 – 73). North Grafton, MA: Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy.
Lee, P. C. & Moss, C. J (2009). Welfare and well-being of captive elephants: Perspectives from wild elephant life histories. In D. L. Forthman, L. F. Kane, D. Hancocks, & P. F. Waldau (Eds.), An Elephant in the Room: The Science and Well-Being of Elephants in Captivity (pp. 22 – 38). North Grafton, MA: Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy.
Meehan, C. L., Mench J. A., Carlstead K., & Hogan J. N. (2016). Determining connections between the daily lives of zoo elephants and their welfare: An epidemiological approach. PLoS ONE 11(7): e0158124. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0158124.
Miller, M.A, Hogan, J. N., & Meehan, C. L. (2016). Housing and demographic risk factors impacting foot and musculoskeletal health in African Elephants [Loxodonta africana] and Asian Elephants [Elephas maximus] in North American zoos. PLoS ONE 11(7): e0155223. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0155223.,
O’Connell, C. (2015). Elephant Don: The Politics of a Pachyderm Posse. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Poole, J. & Granli, P. (2009). Mind and movement: Meeting the interests of elephants. In D. L. Forthman, L. F. Kane, D. Hancocks, & P. F. Waldau (Eds.), An Elephant in the Room: The Science and Well-Being of Elephants in Captivity (pp. 2 – 21). North Grafton, MA: Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy.
Schore, A. N. (2009). Relational trauma and the developing right brain. Annals of New York Academy of Sciences, 1159: 189-203.
Williams, C.A. (2009). Space use by Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in Rajaji National Park, North West India: Implications for elephants held in captivity. In D. L. Forthman, L. F. Kane, D. Hancocks, & P. F. Waldau (Eds.), An Elephant in the Room: The Science and Well-Being of Elephants in Captivity (pp.39 – 51). North Grafton, MA: Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy.
FACT SHEET: Elephants of Asia Exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo
The claims below can be found on the Los Angeles Zoo website under Elephants at the LA Zoo (www.lazoo.org).
Claim: Billy has “the opportunity for daily contact with Tina and Jewel”.
Fact: When we asked for documentation of such contact in a Public Request for Documents we were informed by zoo management that no such documents exist.
Claim: Billy has enjoyed companionship “for the entirety of his 28 years at the zoo.”
Fact: Based on zoo records, Billy was the only Elephant at the Los Angeles Zoo from 2007-2010. In 2010, Tina and Jewel were transferred to the Los Angeles Zoo from San Diego, however, Billy is housed separately from them at all times. In 2016, Shaunzi was transferred to the Los Angeles Zoo from the Fresno Chaffee Zoo. Again, Billy is housed separately from all 3 females at all times.
Claim: The stereotypic head bobbing of Elephants held in captivity is “anticipatory in nature”, and is similar to a human tapping their toes.
Fact: Current research shows that the stereotypies of Animals held in captivity (pacing in Big Cats, head bobbing and swaying in Elephants, etc.) are symptoms of profound psychological trauma. Even zoo researchers admitted in a 2016 study conducted on Elephants held in North American zoos that stereotypic behaviors are “considered one of the most important behavioral indicators of compromised welfare.” (Greco, Meehan, et al., 2016).
Claim: The Elephants of Asia facility at the Los Angeles Zoo is over 6 acres.
Fact: Based on the plans for the exhibit, produced by the zoo in response to a Public Request for Documents, the usable space for Elephants is less than 3 acres and even this space is divided into separate corrals as follows:
Yard 1: 0.26 acres or a little over ¼ of an acre
Yard 2: 1.005 acres or about 1 acre
Yard 3: 0.899 acres or almost 1 acre
Yard 4: 0.32 or about 1/3 of an acre
The most space an Elephant has at one time is about 1 acre. That said, based on the current research regarding Elephant needs, even the 6 acres claimed by the zoo would not meet Elephant needs for space, physical activity, and foraging.
Claim: The Elephants “are able to roam through habitat freely”.
Fact: The Elephants are kept in corrals by fencing, metal gates, and electric wires.
Claim: The zoo admits they will continue to collect Billy’s semen for artificial insemination purposes and this does not harm Billy in any way.
Fact: The highly invasive procedure to collect Billy’s semen is both physically and psychologically harmful and does not benefit Billy in any way. In fact, to perform the procedure, Billy must be placed in an Elephant Restraint Device.
Claim: “We do not and will not use bull hooks”
Fact: This statement should state that the Los Angeles Zoo no longer uses bull hooks because they are now illegal. There is video footage of Billy being trained at the Los Angeles Zoo by a keeper with a bull hook.
The Elephants at the LA Zoo page on the zoo website also contains a PR video featuring Billy. This video, motivated by current controversy and public pressure, fails to address the fundamental issues surrounding the ethics of wildlife captivity. For example, the Los Angeles Zoo is not the only home Billy has ever known, as they claim. Billy was stolen out of his natural home in Malaysia and prematurely separated from his mother. Accordingly, he knew another home that was taken from him by human interference. In addition, the zoo is not the best home for Billy, as they claim. The best home for Billy is his natural habitat. If the zoo cannot acknowledge this fundamental fact, how can we trust them to provide appropriate care for Billy and all of the wild Animals they are holding.