Dear Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti and City Council Members:

We hope we can count on you to join us – Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles — to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, namely the four elephants held at the Los Angeles Zoo under conditions contrary to science, ethics, and common decency. This is an issue that will not go away, and Los Angeles has the incredible opportunity to take a leadership role in the Sanctuary Movement that is gaining momentum around the world.

The Los Angeles Zoo would like for the public to believe that its redesigned Elephants of Asia Exhibit, opened in 2010, meets the needs of its current inhabitants. However, while the environment may look pretty to human visitors, the scene quickly deteriorates when viewed from the perspective of the captive elephants.

On one side of the enclosure are three female Asian elephants, Tina, Jewel, and Shaunzi, former victims of the circus industry.  On the other side, separated from the females, is Billy, a lone, male Asian elephant. Billy was born in 1985 to a wild elephant herd in Malaysia, and was acquired by the Los Angeles Zoo in 1989, where he has since lived in isolation. He occupies a lonely enclosure where he spends most of his time in a corner, swaying and bobbing his head for hours on end, surrounded by metal bars and the constant clicking of electric wires. In light of the current, prolific research on elephants, the Elephants of Asia Exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo does not provide an appropriate environment to meet the most basic needs for space, exercise, socialization, and cognitive stimulation required by elephants.

The lack of living space creates terrible physical and mental stress. As the largest land animal on Earth, elephants require vast, open spaces. It is one of the most important requirements for their physical and psychological well-being. In the wild, elephants cover hundreds, perhaps thousands of acres, and naturally engage in foraging, dusting, mud wallowing, swimming, resting, and socializing with other elephants. Within the constricted zoo exhibit, they live a monotonous and lonely existence. In fact, they are still forced to perform “tricks” for the crowd at “training demonstrations”.

In addition, claims of educating the public are simply unfounded. Children cannot learn anything useful about wild animals when they are viewed in a captive situation. Although seeing animals in a zoo may delight some children, it is basing something that is wonderful on something that is a horror. It teaches children to be indifferent to the suffering of others, that it is morally acceptable to benefit at the cost of someone’s terror, loss, and destruction. Children have a natural interest in and affinity for animals. However, they learn from the adult models around them. If the adults in their life display apathetic, uncaring attitudes towards animals, or even outright violence, that is what our children will learn. On the other hand, if we shift our thinking and model respect for all living things, our children will follow our example.

Finally, there is no possible gain from a captive elephant breeding program. Forced mating and artificial insemination does nothing to help animals in the wild. Instead, it increases zoo profits by luring the public to see baby animals. A better use of our resources would be finding ways to protect wild animals in their home environments where they can live and raise families in a natural, dignified manner. Both male and female elephants are highly infertile in zoos (along with high infant mortality and infanticide, the latter unheard of in the wild), which is not surprising given the terrible stress and devastating conditions they must endure on a daily basis. In fact, despite their efforts to stimulate Billy, the zoo has been unsuccessful in collecting any semen samples from him in order to artificially inseminate a female at another zoo. Even if captive breeding is successful, it produces physically and psychologically unhealthy elephants destined for a life of captivity and exploitation. The Los Angeles Zoo has no intention of breeding elephants for reintroduction to the wild.

There is no justification for the captivity of this highly complex, intelligent, and social species, especially since research shows that elephants experience the same psychological reactions to captivity and isolation as humans.  How long will we stand by and allow these magnificent beings to be exploited for entertainment and profit? They have spent their lives in the service of humans. It is time to say enough.

 “THE GREATNESS OF A NATION AND ITS MORAL PROGRESS CAN BE JUDGED BY THE WAY ITS ANIMALS ARE TREATED …” – MAHATMA GHANDI

Billy was born in Malaysia to his wild Elephant family and was acquired by the zoo at the age of only 4 years old. In the wild, a 4 year old male Elephant baby would still be nursing and completely dependent on his mother and the other female relatives making up his family unit. He would remain with his family until between the ages of 11 to 14, when he would venture out to join a nearby all-bull group. It is then that the second phase of male Elephant socialization begins. The young bull would learn how to be an adult male Elephant from his elders.

As an adult male Elephant in the wild, Billy would be socializing within his all-male group, forming life long bonds of friendship, mentoring young bulls, and interacting with female herds for social and procreation purposes. In the wild, Elephants are rarely alone.

PLEASE WATCH OUR VIDEO ABOUT BILLY’S SUFFERING IN THE LOS ANGELES ZOO

Below is video, taken on different dates in 2016, of Billy exhibiting the head-bobbing behavior, typical of Elephants in captivity, that is a desperate attempt to cope with trauma and despair. This behavior is not seen in wild Elephants.

Dr. Gay Bradshaw is the Executive Director of the Kerulos Center, and the leading expert on elephant trauma and recovery. Please read her endorsement of the mission of Elephant Guardians below:

My name is Gay Bradshaw, PhD, PhD and I am the author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated “Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us About Humanity.” I am writing this letter in support of the efforts of The Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles to release Billy, the male Asian Elephant held the Los Angeles Zoo, and end captive elephant breeding in Los Angeles.

I hold two doctorates, one in ecology and the other psychology, and have studied elephant trauma and trauma recovery for fifteen years. My research led to the first formal diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in elephants and provided rigorous scientific proof establishing elephant psychological vulnerability to human violence. I am regarded as the foremost authority on the effects of human violence, including capture and captivity, on elephants.

In 2010, amid intense legal, political, and ethical controversy, the Los Angeles Zoo (LA Zoo) opened a new “Elephants of Asia” exhibit. On one side of the enclosure are three female Asian Elephants. On the other side, separated from the females, is Billy, a solitary, male Asian elephant. Billy was born in 1985 to a free living elephant community in Malaysia, but kidnapped from his family. Later, in 1989, he was acquired by the LA Zoo, where he has lived in virtual isolation for nearly 30 years, spending his hours bobbing and swaying, repetitive motions indicative of psychological breakdown.

Proponents of keeping elephants in zoos argue that captive elephants ensure the survival of the species. Granted, there are real threats in the wild – poaching and culling – but the answer is not to imprison elephants and breed their babies for zoos. The appropriate answer is to protect wild elephants by supporting strict national and international laws and treaties against the sale and importation of ivory; to support sanctuaries where elephants can live in a setting closer to their natural habitat; and to allocate alternative, sustainable resources in areas prone to poaching.

Zoo proponents also insist that captive elephants who are used to amuse and entertain human visitors act as ambassadors for their species, promote love of elephants and educate our children about endangered animals. While some may find Tina and Jewel’s “curtsey” performance at the LA Zoo “cute”, the fact is elephants do not curtsey or perform tricks in the wild, neither do elephants in the wild bob and sway in dissociative agony as they do in zoos.

Zoos teach our children all the wrong lessons. Instead of learning respect and care for a species on the brink of extinction, children are taught that captive abuse will save elephants. Zoo elephants cannot be reintroduced to the wild to “save” the species. If the multi-day, highly stressful transport does not kill them, they will suffer and most likely die in the wild because their zoo life does not prepare them to live on their own and integrate into wild herds. Baby zoo elephants are fated to live a life of misery in order to  generate revenues that service humans, not the species.

The stress and suffering endured by the elephants held in the Los Angeles Zoo can be measured by the difference between their natural habitat in the wild with that of the zoo exhibit. In the wild, elephants typically walk tens to hundreds of miles a day. Elephants in the LA Zoo are limited to a few acres, with unnaturally hard, arthritis-inducing substrates, including cement at the bottom of their pools. They are subjected to the constant clicking of hot-wired fences that are not only disturbing, but prevent the elephants from reaching vegetation that they would naturally seek out. This punitive restriction only underscores their helplessness and hopelessness. Moreover, the elephants cannot use the entire three acre exhibit at any one time. Instead, they are moved on a human schedule through heavy metal gates into different enclosures, with Billy always kept alone.

In addition to the profoundly physically harming enclosure, Billy, Tina, and Jewel live a social existence unheard of in wild elephant communities. The LA Zoo has maintained that male elephants (bulls) isolate themselves in the wild, yet this assertion is in direct contradiction to decades of science that document the reality of elephant life in the wild. All elephants, including males, are part of a complex, tightly knit extended society that encompasses multiple generations. Given science’s understanding that elephant brains and sentience are comparable to our own, conditions at the LA Zoo are appropriately described as those in a prison camp.

The elephants are subjected to yet further violations. The LA Zoo’s so-called “breeding program” is equivalent to rape. Again, given science’s recognition of elephant sentience, this characterization is accurate and is in no way an exaggeration. In captive breeding programs, personnel massage an elephant’s prostate or invade orifices to prompt ejaculation and sperm production for insemination in a female elephant held captive elsewhere. It is highly significant that Billy refuses to ejaculate even though he is in musth, a heightened state of sexual arousal. This not only points to his full awareness of what is happening to him, but also of his suffering from the indignities sustained. The zoo’s plan is to use Billy’s sperm to breed more captive elephants who will never be released to the wild or live anywhere resembling their natural habitat – and, like commodities, be moved from one zoo to the next, without their mother’s love or their sisters, brothers, and cousins’ companionship.

Zoo and circus elephants sustain injuries and poor health under unnatural conditions. On average they live only half as long as those in the wild. When elephants are born in zoos, they often die young – victims of disease (e.g., herpes virus) or other injuries. The trauma sustained in captivity transmits and cultivates psychopathology. Elephants commit infanticide, kill each other, and self-harm. These are symptoms of c-PTSD (complex PTSD), a formal psychological and psychiatric diagnosis that was developed to describe the devastating effects of torture and captivity.

In summary, the entire captive enterprise is perverse. What people see when they visit the LA Zoo are not normal healthy elephants, but highly traumatized individuals teetering on the edge of total breakdown. The City of Los Angeles has always been a model of progress and ethics, and should join other cities – New York, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto, and London – in closing their captive elephant exhibit. Please choose to be a leader in this cause that is compelled by science and plain decency. Support the Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles by advocating to close the Elephants of Asia Exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo, end the captive breeding of elephants, and send all the Elephants to an appropriate sanctuary where they can live out their lives with some degree of comfort, peace, privacy, and security.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

G.A. Bradshaw PhD, PhD

Founder and Executive Director

Learn more about The Kerulos Center,  and the establishment of the All Bull Elephants’ Sanctuary, at:  www.kerulos.org

The Los Angeles County Democratic Party Passes a Resolution (2-09-16) Calling for Ending the Elephant Exhibit

Ending the Elephant Exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo

WHEREAS, many zoos in the United States and Europe have closed their elephant exhibits, citing lack of space, inadequate social groupings, chronic health problems, anxiety, agitation and premature death suffered by captive zoo elephants, while acknowledging the Scientific American Board of Editors’ conclusion that keeping elephants – intelligent and emotionally complex animals – confined in zoos is wrong and must stop; and

WHEREAS, elephants in the wild typically roam 50 miles each day, even when food is abundant, and depend on vast amounts of space to maintain their physical well-being and strong social bonds with extended family networks, but at the Los Angeles Zoo, three elephants – Billy, Tina, and Jewel – are confined to only a few acres while Billy, the male elephant has lived over a quarter of a century in virtual isolation; and

WHEREAS, elephant breeding programs by zoos are largely unsuccessful, resulting in a high mortality rate for baby elephants while further disrupting elephant family bonds, and while advancing the false idea that zoo breeding will ensure the survival of elephants in their natural habitat when, in fact, these baby elephants are bred only for captivity;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Los Angeles County Democratic Party urges the City of Los Angeles to end its captive elephant breeding program, transfer Billy, Tina, and Jewel, at the earliest possible opportunity, to an existing sanctuary recognized for offering humane living conditions for these majestic animals; and

THEREFORE, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, the Los Angeles County Democratic Party shall communicate this resolution to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Los Angeles City Council, the Director of the Los Angeles Zoo, the Los Angeles Zoo Commission and to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Written by Marcy Winograd, member, West LA Democratic Club Sponsor: Tony Hale, AD 66

Read “What’s New in this Zoo?” by Marcy Winograd, co-found of Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles here: LA Progressive

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

  1. 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).

 

  1. 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.”

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

 

  1. 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.

REFERENCES

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

ASIAN ELEPHANTS IN THE WILD:

Natural Habitat: Grasslands, tropical forests, and dry forests of Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Laos, Malay Peninsula, Maynmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Sumatra, Thailand, and Vietnam.

Natural Conditions for Elephants:  Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of acres to roam within a complex elephant community of all ages and both sexes, the ability to choose among social partners and/or choose to be alone, as well as the freedom to engage in natural behaviors such as foraging, dusting, mud wallowing, bathing, resting, playing, and socializing. (Poole & Granli, 2009).

In her 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 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.”

EFFECTS OF CAPTIVITY:

1.    Physical health issues including shortened life spans, arthritis and joint problems, obesity, foot problems, oral health problems, reproductive issues, failure to thrive, skin diseases, nutritional diseases, and other diseases such as tuberculosis and endotheliotropic elephant herpes virus. (See, Kaufman & Martin, 2009, for a full discussion of health problems plaguing elephants in captivity).

“Captive 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).

2.    Psychological stress and trauma caused by capture, loss of space and relationships, isolation, and lack of self-determination, evidenced by loss of appetite, depression, apathy, self-harming, infanticide, and stereotypic behaviors such as bobbing, swaying, and rocking. These behaviors are not seen in the wild. (See, Bradshaw, 2009, for a full discussion of psychological problems of elephants in captivity).

“Captive conditions are creating a population of psychobiologically impaired elephants, many of whom are likely to be candidates for PTSD and a suite of other tenacious psychological, emotional and physical ailments.” (Bradshaw, 2009, p. 63).

ALTERNATIVES TO CAPTIVITY:

There are Elephant Sanctuaries around the world (currently two in the United States) that are devoted to providing a permanent, safe haven for elephants that are victims of captivity and/or the entertainment industry. While Sanctuary can never replace life in the wild, and in no way endorses or justifies captivity, it does provide a space where elephants can live out their remaining life with some degree of security, peace, and dignity.  Carol Buckley, founder of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, cites “three key requirements for success: multi-hundred-acre diverse habitat where elephants are allowed to roam freely; free–choice access to lush and abundant species-appropriate vegetation; and social groupings of a minimum of five individuals.” (Buckley, 2009, p. 194).

EDUCATIONAL ALTERNATIVES:

The Los Angeles Zoo claims that the Elephants of Asia Exhibit provides valuable information and education regarding the conservation of wild elephants to the public. However, elephant experts agree that “Whether visitors see zoo elephants indoors or outdoors, most elephant exhibits teach the public very little, if anything, about elephants’ biology, social system, complex, communicative abilities or their unequalled physical strength and endurance.” (Kane, 2009, p. 95).

Educational alternatives to exhibiting wild elephants in unnatural conditions could include:

**IMAX theater, surround sound presentations that allow the viewer to experience being part of a wild African or Asian elephant community**

**Live video feed from elephant sanctuaries and/or national parks of elephants engaging in natural behaviors such as foraging, bathing, mud wallowing, dusting, and socializing in family groups in a more natural habitat**

**Animatronic exhibits and/or computerized interactive exhibits that would engage children and provide accurate information regarding wild elephants and the current dangers to their existence, as well as the sordid history of elephant captivity around the world**

Links:

Research on social lives of male elephants

Elephant Sanctuaries in the United States:

The Board of Editors of Scientific American has concluded that it is wrong to hold elephants in captivity and zoos should release their elephants to a sanctuary:

Read Judge Segal’s 56 page decision in Leider v. City of Los Angeles. Judge Segal states: “All is not well at the Los Angeles Zoo. Contrary to what the zoo’s representatives may have told the Los Angeles City Council in order to get construction of the $42 million exhibit approved and funded, the elephants are not healthy, happy or thriving.”

Read about the Detroit Zoo’s decision to voluntarily release its elephants to sanctuary:

Why zoos should become sanctuaries – and the difference between the two

Suggested Reading:

  • Elephants on the Edge: What Animals Teach Us about Humanity, by G. A. Bradshaw
  • Love, Life, and Elephants, by Daphne Sheldrick
  • The Elephant Whisperer, by Lawrence Anthony & Graham Spence
  • Last Chains on Billie, by Carol Bradley
  • Elephant Don, by Caitlin O’Connell
  • Leaving Time, by Jodi Picoult (fiction)
  • FOR CHILDREN OF ALL AGES: The Elephant Letters: The Story of Billy & Kani, by G. A. Bradshaw

References:

Bradshaw, G. A. (2009). Elephants on the edge. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Bradshaw, G. A. (2009). Inside looking out: Neuroethological compromise effects in elephants 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. 55 – 68). North Grafton, MA: Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy.

Buckley, C. (2009). Sanctuary: A fundamental requirement of wildlife management. 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. 191 – 197). North Grafton, MA: Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy.

Kane, L. F. (2009). Contemporary zoo elephant management: Captive to a 19th century vision. 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. 87 – 98). North Grafton, MA: Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy.

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.

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.