Animal Activist Patty Shenker Reveals The Truth Behind The Captivity Of Billy The Elephant At The LA Zoo

Some people believe that captive elephants have much better lives than those in the wild.

While it is true that they are not poached, or hunted, or killed by trains or angry villagers, captivity does not offer the complex social and physical lives that elephants enjoy and need to thrive that they would get in the wild.

The truth is that both captive and wild elephants are having a rough time regardless of where they live.

Without large spaces to walk, as they have in the wild, they become overweight, arthritic and develop serious foot problems that lead to chronic suffering and premature deaths.

They also tend to display the neurotic behavior of bobbing their heads and swaying back and forth. Billy, the Asian bull elephant at Los Angeles Zoo was caught in the wild, his mother most likely killed in front of him and taken from Malaysia to Los Angeles in 1989.

Sadly, Billy displays this neurotic behavior constantly, while many zoo visitors laugh at him or zookeepers tell them he’s dancing or excited about food coming. Sadly, he is exhibiting a neurotic behavior called “zoochosis”.

A New Scientist report titled “No Way Out” about this stereotypical behavior says; that “An estimated 80 million captive animals worldwide perform bizarre, repetitive rituals, known as stereotypes.”

So, elephants are not alone with this behavior; many captive species suffer from it. Los Angeles has the opportunity to move Billy the captive elephant from the LA Zoo to a sanctuary where he will live out the rest of his life in a better environment.

City Councilmember Paul Koretz has made a motion to do just that.

Recently, the LA Zoo took in a third female elephant to reside with the two females who are on loan from the San Diego Zoo.

My understanding is that this new elephant was in a bad situation so the zoo was a step up for her. This new  “Pachyderm Forest” is not a large enough space for four elephants.

It is time for Billy to go to a sanctuary. He has suffered long enough and deserves to live in peace where he will have plenty of space and a semblance of the natural life that was once denied to him.

Surely, those who insist on having elephants in our city’s zoos, knowing that it is unhealthy physically and psychologically, can let one of these four elephants live a better life; if not, I think they’re quite heartless.

Please call and write your Los Angeles City Councilmember to free Billy and send him to a proper sanctuary.

Because elephants are wild animals, one cannot domesticate. In order to train them, severe beatings and emotional intimidation with bullhooks or other devices, including electrical shocks with stun guns, and constant confinement, starting when they are babies are performed.

Dr. Joyce Poole, an elephant expert who has spoken around the world about elephants, says this about the bullhook; “The bullhook is a steel-tipped device similar to a fireplace poker that is used to prod, hook, jab and strike elephants. Even when not in use, this weapon is a constant reminder of the pain and punishment that can be meted out at any time, for any reason. So powerful is the negative association with the bullhook that an elephant who has not even seen the device in years will respond immediately to its mere presence.”

Because of many stories of abuse and the consequential public outcry, more than half of the zoos have rejected the bullhook. The judge in the case against the elephant exhibit at the LA Zoo, ordered the zoo to no longer use bullhooks and to begin walking the elephants daily. The judge also stated that, with the small space, the hardness of the ground, the electrified trees and their sexual frustration, the “LA Zoo exhibit is not a happy place for elephants.”

Zoos also claim to be educational and part of the conservation efforts for the endangered elephants.

Several studies have concluded that zoo visitors view the various animal exhibits for less than two minutes each, and most never read the educational posts. There still is no conclusive evidence that seeing an elephant causes any change or interest in conservation to zoo visitors.

As for conservation, breeding elephants in captivity is very expensive and generally unsuccessful with only around 7% of captive females having reproduced, and often with tragic deaths of the babies within the first few years. There is never any intention of releasing them into the wild.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature/Species Survival Commission wrote of their concern of “the poor breeding success and low life expectancy of captive elephants, and does not see any contribution to the effective conservation of the species through captive breeding per se.” Zoos put the ‘con’ in conservation.

Los Angeles has the opportunity to help wild animals and not just elephants, as Councilmember David Ryu has introduced a motion to the LA City Council to ban the use of wild animals for parties, weddings, etc. Indian weddings have the groom ride into the party on an elephant, though this is extremely dangerous to all attending, a giraffe had to endure a West Hollywood party and caged cats are often brought to delight partiers.

Both the Free Billy motion and the ban on wild animals used for private use are very important and should pass.

Please contact your councilmembers to get behind these humane motions and work in your state to make things better for our captive wild animals.

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