The future home of Billy the elephant is uncertain after Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz on Tuesday announced he wants Billy moved from the Los Angeles Zoo to a sanctuary.
Billy is one of three pachyderms in the Los Angeles Zoo’s 6.5-acre “Elephants of Asia” habitat, which opened in 2010 at a cost of $42 million. According to the zoo’s website, the elephant habitat was designed to give visitors a greater appreciation of Asian elephants and the challenges they face in the wild, “including their shrinking natural habitat.”
Koretz said a lack of natural space is exactly the problem for Billy, who is confined to a portion of the habitat because he must be separated from the other two female elephants, Tina and Jewel, because they are in their 50s and are past reproductive age. Billy, a 32-year-old male elephant, can present a danger to the older females, L.A. Zoo curator of mammals Josh Sisk said.
Koretz, 5th District, has a long history of supporting animal welfare causes and is chair of the Los Angeles City Council’s Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee. He said with only 3.6 acres of roaming space, the elephant habitat is not large enough for Billy, who came to the zoo 28 years ago.
Koretz introduced the motion to move Billy to a sanctuary on Wednesday. The motion, which contains a provision to create an animal welfare oversight committee to advise city officials on animal care at the zoo, was forwarded to the council’s Arts, Parks, and River Committee for consideration.
“For many years, Billy has lived in an area completely unnatural for an animal of his size and of his stature,” Koretz said. “It’s sad and wrong to see any animal, living in captivity, in social isolation, restricted in movement and physical activity. In fact, he has long been displaying stereotypic behavior, such as repetitive head bobbing, which goes on for extended periods of time. That’s why [I am] introducing a measure to ‘free’ Billy and change the way elephants are treated at the L.A. Zoo. We cannot and must not treat animals in this manner.”
Sisk said Billy’s head-bobbing is “stereotypical” behavior for elephants in captivity and does not mean he is in pain or discomfort. Sisk added that the “Elephants of Asia” exhibit is large enough for the three pachyderms and reiterated that they are not mistreated.
“We are very comfortable with the way we manage the elephants,” Sisk said. “The most recent research shows that it’s not about space, it’s how you manage that space. If you put Billy on 50 acres, he is still going to do the same thing. If you give him 500 acres, he is still going to bob his head.”
Koretz said he believes all three elephants at the Los Angeles Zoo should have more space, but he is only seeking to have Billy removed because it would eliminate the issue of having to separate him from the females in the habitat. He also said he wants to move slowly on the issue because he doesn’t believe the “political will” exists on the council to remove all of the elephants.
“If I thought there was [support for removing all the elephants], I’d call for that,” Koretz said. “This is a decent interim step. The female elephants will be in a better place.”
Koretz said he is looking at options for places Billy could be moved if the council approves his motion. The proposal is supported by the animal welfare organizations Voices for the Animals Foundation, Humane Society of the United States, the Performing Animal Welfare Society, Last Chance for Animals and Elephant Guardians of L.A. Representatives of some of the organizations joined Koretz at a press conference in front of the zoo on Tuesday where he announced plans to call for Billy’s removal to a sanctuary.
“If a facility cannot offer proper space, the animals shouldn’t be there,” animal activist Cheri Shankar said. “Zoos have a chance to be much more progressive. I’d like to see the zoo move in a more progressive direction.”
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