Some years ago when I was teaching animal rights, the students decided they wanted to focus on elephants. We saw a film about elephants in the wild and then went to the LA Zoo. We were horrified by the conditions and treatment of the elephants.
The students formed a group and called themselves The Elefriends.
Their goal was to help the 4 elephants at the zoo: Tara, Ruby and Gita, and Billy.
They spoke before the zoo commission They held press conferences. They said the space was too small and the bullhooks were cruel. They were ignored.
Then one day we received an anonymous packet addressed to the Elefriends. In it were internal zoo memos and vet reports documenting horrific abuse to the zoo elephants. We took the packet to the DA Gil Garcetti. He refused to do anything. All we could do is watch.
The Zoo decided to separate Ruby and Gita who had lived together for 16 years and were best friends.
In spite of the fact that the director, Ed Marushka, promised it would not be done in secret, they shoved Ruby in a truck in the middle of the night and took her to a zoo in Tennessee where she was put in a tiny enclosure, completely isolated. (May 2003)
We jumped into action, found an attorney and filed a lawsuit to bring Ruby back to be with Gita.
At the last minute when it was clear that the judge would rule in our favor, the mayor Hahn ordered Ruby to be returned to LA. (November 2004)
The Zoo had no choice but to accept her back, but they refused to put her with Gita.
I saw Ruby, In a small cage, flinging her trunk against the steel bars in anger as she watched her life long companion stand day after day in pools of blood and excruciating pain. Gita's feet were disintegrating from years of standing on hard surfaces. This never happens in the wild.
Soon after Ruby was returned, Tara was found dead in her enclosure. Her feet had disintegrated.
A new mayor was elected and we pleaded with him to send Ruby to the PAWS sanctuary.
He agreed! Ruby went to the sanctuary! But what about Gita?
In April of 2006, John Lewis, director of the zoo, testified before city council that Gita was completely healed. Two months later, Gita died. Her feet disintegrated.
The zoo continues to convince the city council that keeping elephants in captivity is important for education and conservation. But what was the education?
The students interviewed 60 kids in front of Billy’s enclose at the LA Zoo. The kids were all asked the same two questions: what did you learn from seeing this elephant in the zoo today? The answer was the same: nothing. Then they were asked, what do you know about dinosaurs. And each kid became animated and gave lengthy descriptions about their favorite dinosaur. And when asked, where did you learn that – the answer was from books.
We also found that kids spent less that 2 minutes looking at the elephants and 6 minutes at the concession stands.
And what conservation? Captivity is CAN NEVER BE conservation. Protecting habitats is. Hiring locals and arming them to stop poaching creates jobs as well as saves lives and it's working.
13 elephants have died at the LA Zoo and many more have been transferred and lost.
Billy is still at the LA Zoo. Standing in one place all day, swaying back and forth. It's called stereotypic behavior. It is from unrelenting stress over which he has no control. His feet are cracked. He is in tremendous pain. He is displaying all the symptoms which killed Tara and Gita.
Just like with Tara and Gita, the zoo is lying and denying that there is anything wrong with Billy. They are fighting to keep Billy. We must fight harder to get Billy to the sanctuary – before he dies like Tara and Gita.
WE MUST NOT LET THE ZOO KILL BILLY.