June 21, 2016
To the Los Angeles Zoo Commission:
My name is Kiersten Cluster, I am a long time resident of Los Angeles and a public school special education teacher in Van Nuys. I am also an intern with Dr. Gay Bradshaw, Pulitzer-nominated author of Elephants on the Edge and the foremost authority on Elephant trauma and PTSD. Finally, I am a co-founder of Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles.
I am here today on behalf of Billy, the male Asian Elephant held by the Los Angeles Zoo since 1989. 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.
Unfortunately, this rich, complex social life was completely denied to Billy. Not only was he taken from his mother and family, which for human or Elephant is profoundly traumatic and devastating, but Billy currently lives in isolation. As a captive-held Elephant in a zoo, Billy is condemned to solitary confinement restricted to a space far too small to meet the needs of an adult bull Elephant. In addition, as an adult male in his prime, he suffers from an almost constant state of sexual frustration. The presence of the 2 elderly females, Tina and Jewel, separated from Billy by iron bars, does not in any way relieve his loneliness or his state of musth. In fact, it may make it worse.
Due to a lifetime of deprivation and trauma, Billy is showing the classic signs of complete psychological breakdown. It is scientifically established that Elephants possess brain structures and mental and emotional capacities comparable to our own. When children and their families watch Billy in the corner of his enclosure bobbing his head or swaying incessantly, they are not seeing, as I have heard zoo “education specialists” assert, an Elephant in a state of anticipation or happiness. No, this is a broken Elephant, a mere shadow of his potential. Billy’s behavior is the sign of an Elephant slowly and painfully losing his mind. In this condition, how can he possibly teach our children anything about Elephants in the wild?
Billy’s suffering has gone on long enough. Isn’t 27 years enough time to live in the service of another species denied everything vital to his health and well-being? Who are we to continue to condemn this magnificent soul to such senseless cruelty purely for the purpose of profit and entertainment? How will we answer our children when they ask why we tortured a sentient being whose species wavers on the brink of extinction? You have the opportunity to take a leadership role and end this suffering: it time to retire Billy to sanctuary.
I will leave you with the words of Caitrin Nicol in her essay entitled “Do Elephants Have Souls?”: “Freedom is the hardest, greatest gift, returning nothing to the giver but the selfless act of having given it.”
On behalf of Billy, I ask you to give him this gift.
Members of Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles spoke before the Los Angeles Zoo Commission about the imperative need to release Billy to Sanctuary on June 21, 2016.
For more information on the Los Angeles Zoo Commission, including meeting schedule, please visit: