Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Billy the bull Asian elephant at the LA Zoo is probably the most controversial elephant of recent history. Many notable animal rights activists backed by celebrities including Bob Barker, Halle Barry and Cher called for an end to Billy’s captivity in the LA Zoo and sought to have him transferred to an elephant sanctuary. The issue was pushed by city council member Tony Cardenas. The big problem for the zoo wasn’t permission from the city, it was money. The zoo needed 42 million to finish the pachyderm forest enclosure that is already years behind schedule. Fortunately for the zoo the drama surrounding Billy was finally put to rest when the city council approved the completion of the pachyderm forest at the LA Zoo. The fervor on both sides of the issue made Billy the elephant a daily feature on the news.
Elephants in captivity are a touchy issue. I can definitely empathize with both sides of the issue. I can’t imagine my childhood without them. But seeing an elephant is not a right, it is a privilege. Elephants are very intelligent social creatures that depend on relationships with other elephants. Unfortunately because of their size and strength their social needs are too often neglected in zoos. I have visited many elephants in zoos who in cramped enclosures sway from side to side and neurotically bob their heads up and down. I hope that the new pachyderm forest in the LA Zoo is able to provide a mentally and physically stimulating home for Billy and other elephants.