LA Zoo cruel to elephant, says animal rights group
There is an elephant at the Los Angeles Zoo. His name is Billy and his fate is the center of controversy.
According to animal rights activists, he has lived alone for over four years, despite being a highly social animal, confined to no more than a quarter-acre of land, despite it being natural for him to roam 15 to 25 miles a day.
They are demanding Billy be taken to a sanctuary with ample space and other elephants.
Marking the International Day of Action for Elephants in Zoos, demonstrators gathered outside the Los Angeles Zoo’s main entrance today in an effort to educate the public about the suffering of elephants in captivity.
The event was hosted by In Defense of Animals (IDA), an animal rights organization. According to one of its Web sites, “today’s zoos are unable to meet the physical, psychological and social needs of elephants.” They argue that captivity causes elephants to live shorter lives, experience a host of health problems and psychological issues.
“All the science we need on elephants is there,” said Catherine Doyle, director of IDA’s Elephant Campaign. “We know their needs and zoos are failing elephants.”
Doyle says that elephants in captivity often suffer from foot problems from standing on concrete or hard impacted dirt. Their feet become bruised, develop abscesses causing infections that can get into the elephant’s bones, possibly leading to its death.
“Billy has had foot abscesses twice,” said Doyle. “Something is going on with his feet – it’s called captivity.”
According to Doyle, Billy has been observed rocking back and forth. She says this is a sign of stereotypic behavior, which is abnormal behavior observed in animals held in captivity. This includes such things as pacing, bar biting, hyperaggression, and in Billy’s case, rocking and swaying.
The LA Zoo was not available for comment, but according to its Web site, their “responsibility to [their] animal collection is of paramount importance, and mandates the very finest veterinary care possible.” They have a staff of 13 at their Gottlieb Animal Health and Conservation Center, an on-site care facility that “includes a state-of-the-art intensive care unit, an on-site commissary, a surgical suite with observation area, and research facilities.”
Demonstrators at today’s event stressed the importance of having empathy toward animals. “When you look into any of these animal’s eyes, put yourself in their situation,” said animal rights activist Ed Simpson. “Is this the right thing to do? Is this humane?”
Participants handed out leaflets to people entering the zoo in hopes to raise awareness about Billy and the plight of elephants in captivity.
“When people are responsive it’s a great feeling,” said Stefania Ascoli, a demonstrator who handed out leaflets today. “And most people are responsive.”
The LA Zoo is currently being sued by the Voice For The Animals Foundation, an animal rights group that championed Billy’s cause. A trial date for November 2 has been set.
According to the zoos Web site, “education runs through every area of the Zoo, connecting visitors with our conservation messages through a variety of fun, engaging programs, creating stewards of wildlife.” They are currently building a six-acre “Elephants of Asia” exhibit to house more elephants at the zoo, which animal rights activists argue is still not nearly enough space for the animals. The exhibit will cost $42 million.
Radio host Bob Linden attended today’s demonstration. Linden is the host of “Go Vegan with Bob Linden” on 1150 AM. He says elephants have a considerable need to be with other elephants and that it’s time for Billy to be taken to a sanctuary.
Linden also took particular issue with children being taken to see caged animals for amusement. He paid special attention to parents with children entering the zoo.
“We are in the dark ages in entertainment,” he said. “It is very cruel. Everyday is a sad day for Billy – whether the kids have a good time or not.”
IDA, along with other animal rights organizations, plan to protest the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus when it comes to the Staples Center on July 14. Activists say circuses treat their elephants even worse than zoos.