“Poor thing” a woman standing next to me said about the magnificent bull elephant at the Los Angeles Zoo, and I couldn’t help agreeing. I felt sorry for the two female elephants too, who were enclosed in a smaller area.
When I first saw the new elephant space two or three years ago, it seemed rather pleasant. It was fairly large with a pond in the middle in which a duck swam. The duck got out of the water and waddled up to the bull elephant when he plodded by, and it looked like they had become friends. Later the elephant ate his hay in front of the zoo visitors, using his trunk to tuck some up on his long tusks. He looked happy.
But things must not have worked out. My husband said that the pen now looks like an enclosure from Jurassic World, the one where they kept the most dangerous dinousaur, Indominous Rex, and I agreed. The elephant enclosure contains several huge, ominous-looking metal gates, and tall electrified fences, the rope-like wires held up by round posts about a foot in diameter. These ugly structures zigzag across the area, significantly reducing the size of the space for the elephants, and forcing them to follow maze like paths. One of the functions of this fencing was to protect the vegetation, but why have vegetation if it must be surrounded by electrified fencing?
While the bull elephant paced back and forth, I tried to follow the zig zag path of the fences and gates with my eyes, wondering if he could even get to the pond where his duck friend had once lived. It didn’t look like it. And the crackling sounds from the electric fence were frightening. The elephants have undoubtedly been shocked, and it would be difficult for such large animals to avoid touching the fence. How could they not be stressed out about that?
My family and I eventually made our way around to the other side of the enclosure. By then, the lone elephant with his impressive tusks was standing by a small pond near a manmade waterfall. He nodded his head up and down, up and down, incessantly, while we zoo-goers, watched. None of us knew why he was doing that. My sister thought he looked happy, but it looked to me like he was going mad. According to the website Elephants in Crisis, repetitive head bobbing is caused by stress.
The zoo had posted educational signs around the exhibit, but I was too upset to read them. And that is another consideration. It’s not just the bad effect this exhibit has on the elephants, it’s the very depressing effect it has on many of the onlookers, including some members of my family, and the anonymous visitor I’d overheard. She had the heavy accent of a foreign tourist. I wondered what she’d tell her friends about our zoo when she got home. Elephants are strong, intelligent, social creatures. Who are we to treat them like that?
The facts. The bull elephant is a 32-year-old named Billy who was taken away from his family in Malaysia at the age of four and brought to the Los Angeles Zoo. The two female elephants are Tina and Jewel. The case on their behalf, regarding the right of the taxpayer to challenge a public entity or official that is violating animal cruelty standards in California, has been taken up for review by the Supreme Court no less. Check it out on Facebook @Billytheelephant, and perhaps join the effort to help these magnificent animals. Thanks.