Born Free USA Blog
by Will Travers,
Chief Executive Officer
What can you say about a big-hearted bloke who has rescued dolphins, tigers, elephants and more and whose parents once helped a lion cub from a department store by caring for him in their backyard and engineering his rightful return to Africa? You can safely say that he's got great animal instincts! In 1984, Will Travers joined his parents — "Born Free" film stars Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers — to form what became The Born Free Foundation. With knowledge, passion and compassion dripping from his every word, Will's blogs are sure to make you embrace our crusade to Keep Wildlife in the Wild ®.
So now we know the truth: California Superior Court Judge John L. Segal has forbidden the use of bullhooks and electric shocks to control or train Tina, Jewel and Billy, the three elephants at the Los Angeles Zoo’s $42 million "Elephants of Asia" exhibit. The soil, which has been compared by some experts with concrete, needs to be broken up to reduce the impact on their joints and feet and they require that the zoo exercise the three elephants for at least two hours a day in their postage-stamp-size (2.6-acre) enclosure.
The ruling stems from a 2007 lawsuit originally filed by the actor Robert Culp, who died in 2010, and real estate broker Aaron Leider. They alleged that the zoo was not providing adequate space and natural conditions for the elephants.
Segal’s ruling ran to 56 pages that the elephants do not need to be moved, but he strongly criticized the zoo's actions and the health of the elephants. "The elephants are not healthy, happy and thriving," he wrote and he described their lives as "empty, purposeless, boring and occasionally painful."
If the money had genuinely made a positive difference to the lives of their solitary male and two post-reproductive females, then that would be one thing. But in reality it’s truly shocking indictment of the zoo’s conservation justification for this massively expensive (and clearly inadequate) facility. Imagine what even a fraction of those funds could do for real Asian elephant conservation in the wild, in countries that are crying out for help and support. It would have been a game-changer.
What will this mean for the elephants at the L.A. Zoo? Well, potentially, a slightly better, more interesting life. What will it mean for elephants in city-funded zoos around the country? I would imagine that metropolitan authorities will be asking themselves some searching questions: "Are our elephants thriving? Are we wasting taxpayers' money in these difficult times? Are we vulnerable to legal action?"
While the L.A. Zoo may try to brush aside further criticism, there is a resolution to the current situation that is genuinely in the best in the best interests of these elephants: Bow out with grace. Decide not to subject Billy, Tina and Jewel to a lifetime in a $42 million goldfish bowl and relocate them to one of the two genuine U.S. elephant sanctuaries where they can live lives of interest, of choice and of meaning.
The chances of this actually happening? Was that a snowflake on a summer day?