Shut Down the Elephant Exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo and Release the Elephants to Sanctuary

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The Los Angeles Zoo would like for the public to believe that its redesigned Elephants of Asia Exhibit, opened in 2010, is meeting 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 one lonely acre of space where he spends most of his time in a corner swaying and bobbing his head for hours on end.

In the wild, elephants live in complex, social communities and cover hundreds, perhaps, thousands of acres with their herd foraging for food, socializing, playing, and resting, among other activities. In contrast, the elephants in the Los Angeles Zoo have about two acres of usable space surrounded by metal bars and the constant clicking of electric wires. In addition, the two acres are divided into smaller enclosures to keep Billy separate from the females, leaving him with no mental or social stimulation.

While the Los Angeles Zoo would like the public to believe that male elephants live on their own in the wild, this justification for Billy’s isolation directly conflicts with current research on wild, male elephants. As infants until about the age of 14, males live within their tightly bonded, matriarchal family group. As adults, males live within a social community that includes lasting bonds with other male elephants, as well as interaction with females on a regular basis. Accordingly, Billy has been and continues to be deprived of companionship, mental stimulation, and social learning opportunities. As for the females, they should be living within a closely related herd of 20 – 30 individual elephants of all ages and both sexes. In light of the current, prolific research on elephants, the Los Angeles Zoo elephant exhibit does not provide an appropriate environment to meet the most basic needs for space, exercise, socialization, and cognitive stimulation required by its residents.

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 creatures to be exploited for entertainment and profit? They have spent their lives in the service of humans. It is time to say enough.

Join me in asking the Los Angeles Zoo to finally close its Elephants of Asia exhibit and release Billy, Tina, and Jewel to sanctuary, where they can live out the remainder of their lives with some degree of comfort, security, and dignity, which is the very least that they deserve.