L.A. Zoo Opposes Push to Move Billy the Elephant to a Sanctuary

City Councilman Paul Koretz wants Billy the Elephant moved from the L.A. Zoo to a sanctuary. | photo: KCET/SoCal Connected
City Councilman Paul Koretz wants Billy the Elephant moved from the L.A. Zoo to a sanctuary. | photo: KCET/SoCal Connected

Officials at the Los Angeles Zoo went on the defense Tuesday amid a proposal to have Billy the elephant moved to a sanctuary over what a councilman calls an "unnatural" and "restricted" habitat for the animal.

"The sprawling exhibit is 6.56 acres, with over three acres of outdoor space, deep bathing pools, a waterfall, sandy hills, varied topography, clever enrichment opportunities, and a high-tech barn capable of caring for elephants of all sizes and ages," the zoo said in a statement. "The facility greatly exceeds the standards set out by California Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums."

Councilman Paul Koretz, chairman of the City Council's Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee, announced on Monday that he will introduce a motion Wednesday seeking to have Billy moved to a sanctuary.

Because males and females living in captivity must be kept separate, none of the zoo's elephants can use the exhibit's entire space and Billy does not get the daily exercise he needs to be both physically and psychologically healthy, according to Koretz.

Watch Val Zavala's story "Pachyderm Politics: The Battle Over Billy the Elephant" from 2009

"For many years, Billy has lived in an area completely unnatural for an animal of his size and of his stature," the councilman 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."

Billy has lived at the zoo for most of his 30 years and has long been the subject of protests against his captivity.

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An ongoing lawsuit filed by a real estate agent in 2007 alleges conditions at the zoo are unsuitable for his species. Animal activists also started an online petition last year calling on the zoo to move Billy to a sanctuary and collected more than 190,000 signatures.

"Much has been said about the zoo's elephant program, including persistent misinformation and inaccuracies as it specifically relates to our male Asian elephant, Billy," the zoo's statement reads. "It is important that accurate and factual information about our program be shared so that the public understands why the L.A. Zoo is an excellent home for these elephants."

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