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Blog for Last Chance for Animals, an international non-profit dedicated to ending animal cruelty and exploitation.

How the LA Zoo is Hurting Elephants (And What We’re Doing About It)

Succumbing to loneliness, frustration, and physical ailments, elephants at the Los Angeles Zoo die an average of 10 years younger than elephants at all other North American zoos. And sadly, the facility doesn’t seem to care: they recently spent $42 million to build a new elephant exhibit that greatly enhanced the experience for visitors, but did nothing to benefit the elephants forced to live there. 

Last Chance for Animals won’t stand for this atrocity, and our legal team is fighting hard to stop it. We recently filed an amicus curiae (friend of the court) brief in an appeal that seeks to end the suffering of three elephants at the L.A. Zoo:  Billy, Tina, and Jewel. The appeal is based on a taxpayer action filed by plaintiff Aaron Leider, requesting in part that the L.A. Zoo close their exhibit to elephants. LCA's brief was filed in the California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, in support of plaintiff Aaron Leider.

 At trial, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge John L. Segal said, "the Elephants of Asia exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo is not a happy place for elephants, nor is it for members of the public who go to the zoo and recognize that the elephants are neither thriving, happy, nor content."

"Captivity is a terrible existence for any intelligent, self-aware species, which the undisputed evidence shows elephants are," noted the trial court. “To believe otherwise, as some high-ranking zoo employees appear to believe, is delusional. And the quality of life that Billy, Tina, and Jewel endure in their captivity is particularly poor."

The trial court found that insufficient space, a substandard living environment, and inadequate expertise of zoo personnel has caused the elephants to suffer from multiple injuries, as well as unnecessary physical and psychological suffering. The court also found that the elephants exhibit severe stereotypic behaviors of stress and psychological disturbance, such as repetitive bobbing, swaying, and rocking in place for hours (and in the case of Billy, for nearly half of his observable life). These actions stem from boredom, frustration, and isolation in a stimulant-free environment.

Forced to stand on a hard, cement-like surface, the elephants suffer chronic foot and joint problems – which are only made worse by their stress-induced behaviors.

Despite these findings, the trial court failed to apply the facts to the law, offering only limited relief for the elephants held captive at the L.A. Zoo. Specifically, the trial court ordered the L.A. Zoo to cease using bull hooks or electric shock on elephants, to exercise the elephants at least two hours a day and to rototill the exhibit's soil. Last Chance for Animals argues that the only remedy is to close the exhibit and transfer Billy, Tina, and Jewel to a sanctuary where they may live out their days without suffering.

 

UPDATE:

On 1/14/2016, the court of appeal upheld the trial court’s injunctions requiring that the elephants have specific amounts of exercise time, and requiring the rototilling of the soil in the exhibit. The trial court’s injunction prohibiting the zoo from using bull hooks or electric shocks on the elephants was never challenged by the city, so that will stand as well. Unfortunately, it rejected Leider’s cross appeal, and declined to close the elephant exhibit. 

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