An Elephant’s Home: Zoo or Sanctuary?

  • February 27, 2018

Ever since Billy’s arrival at the LA Zoo, anti-zoo activists have been fighting to relocate the Asian elephant to a sanctuary. While they’ve staged numerous protests to advocate their cause, little progress came out of these efforts. However, the Council of Los Angeles has recently decided to take these arguments into consideration, and opened a full investigation to determine whether the zoo is fit to take care of Billy. The advocates are mainly relying on an emotional appeal to win over supporters, but people need to understand the true nature behind the LA Zoo’s treatment of the elephants before making any decisions.

Since his arrival from Malaysia 28 years ago, Billy has been the longest resident of “Elephants of Asia.” The exhibit’s 6.56 acres of land offers ample room for him to wade through pools, roam around hilly areas, and even play with a full scale waterfall feature. He also has a different schedule of activities every day, to ensure that he is physically and mentally active. For example, his caretakers place food in different areas of the enclosure to encourage natural foraging behavior, and allow him to exercise everyday. The space and resources offered at the Zoo are crucial to an elephant’s comfort, and many sanctuaries simply don’t have the room or supplies to accommodate Billy’s needs. Without enough daily exercise, he wouldn’t be able to maintain the level of health he has now. But the possible consequences go beyond his physical welfare.

Throughout his entire experience at the LA Zoo, Billy has always had at least one other elephant to keep him company. Elephants are very social creatures, so having a companion ensures that Billy has someone to rely on for emotional stability. Male elephants are normally solitary in the wild, but his constant interaction with his herd mates makes his situation different from the norm. Over time, Billy formed his own “herd” with the other elephants at the exhibit (Tina, Jewel, and newly introduced Shaunzi), as well as the zookeepers dedicated to caring for him. With the amount of time he’s had to develop relationships with his companions, Billy is bound to be attached to them for life. So, if we were to move him to a foreign environment, without any of his friends around, Billy could become less social and more reclusive.

There’s plenty of evidence to support all my points, but the conclusion is still the same. The zoo’s work is focused on providing the best care for their animals, while simultaneously educating their visitors on important issues in the environment. For them to even consider the possibility of mistreating one of their animals, let alone Billy, would go against what they stand for.

For all the animal advocates that are fighting for Billy’s removal, I get it. You want what’s best for these magnificent creatures, to see them live their lives in peace and with the freedom they deserve. Sure, sometimes animals might feel more comfortable living in a sanctuary. The LA Zoo sent one of their older elephants, Ruby, to PAWS (Performing Animal Welfare Society) a few years ago. But just because this this solution worked for one animal doesn’t mean it’ll work for all of them. We’re all working toward the same goal: to provide Billy with the best life we can give him. But based on the life he’s led at the LA Zoo, it’s clear to me that he doesn’t need to find a home. He’s already home.

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