Elephants are highly social creatures who live in complex family groups. In an attempt to meet their emotional needs, the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) states the following in their Standards for Elephant Care and Management:
“Institutions should strive to hold no less than three female elephants whenever possible. . . . Adult males (six years and above) may be housed alone, but not in complete isolation (opportunities for tactile, olfactory, visual, and/or auditory interaction with other elephants must be provided.”
Based on the above, I do not understand why the Los Angeles Zoo has refused to send their bull elephant Billy to another facility that complies with these guidelines. Since May of 2007 he has lived without interaction with elephants (that’s when the zoo’s other elephant Ruby retired to the Performing Animal Welfare Sanctuary.) He engages in repetitive head bobbing as a way to deal with his loneliness and stress. It is the only thing that seems to bring him comfort. Compulsive behaviors in any species are abnormal and indicate the animal’s psychological needs are not being met.
In 2007, the AZA accredited the L.A. Zoo even though Billy’s situation violated their own standards for elephant care. Since the L.A. Zoo planned to build a new “Pachyderm Forest”, they were given full accreditation. In fact, the AZA touted the new facility as an accomplishment even though it would only be 3.6 acres in size! The fact that Billy would live in isolation for the time it took to raise money and build the facility was not mentioned. I believe he should have been relocated to a facility that could provide for his emotional needs.
On December 3, 2008 the L.A. City Council voted to stop funding the “Pachyderm Forest”. Without City funding, it will at best take years for the L.A. Zoo to raise the necessary funds and finish construction. These are years that Billy will spend bobbing his head up and down. I ask officials of the L.A. Zoo to put Billy’s interests ahead of their own. In my opinion, he should be moved to another facility that will provide the emotional support that only other elephants can bring. It is also time for the AZA to stop accrediting institutions that fail to comply with their (minimum) standards. Just think of the tragedy the AZA could have prevented had it required the San Francisco Zoo to comply with their enclosure requirements. A young man and a young tiger might still be alive today.
Please encourage officials at the L.A. Zoo and AZA to let Billy go to a new facility. He does not deserve solitary confinement.