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 three 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 two female Asian elephants, Tina and Jewel, both former victims of the circus industry in their early fifties. On the other side, separated from Tina and Jewel, 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, Billy, Tina, and Jewel would 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 without any choices. In fact, they are still forced to perform “tricks” for the crowd at daily “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 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 Billy, Tina, and Jewel 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
Sign our petition here:
Elephants in the wild typically walk 50 miles a day; elephants in the Los Angeles Zoo are limited to a few acres and live isolated lives, particularly Billy, the male elephant taken as a baby from his herd in Malaysia and held as a captive zoo elephant since 1989. At the Los Angeles Zoo, Billy can be seen bobbing and swaying continuously, a sign of psychological trauma, boredom and/or agitation.