Seeking to halt zoo elephant exhibit

LOS ANGELES (AP) - October 22, 2008

Councilman Tony Cardenas, accompanied by several celebrities at a news conference Tuesday, announced his desire to halt construction of the zoo's elephant habitat and use the money to build a 60-acre sanctuary operated by the zoo.

"We need to get those elephants out of the LA Zoo," Cardenas said.

Cardenas filed two motions Tuesday at the City Council meeting to reallocate what's left of the $39 million approved for the elephant exhibit and open the sanctuary in the northern San Fernando Valley. He said the 3½-acre "Pachyderm Forest" at the zoo will be too small to keep elephants happy and healthy.

Los Angeles Zoo officials said they intend to complete the project, which will house 11 African elephants and a breeding program. Zoo director John Lewis said construction is one-third complete and about $10.2 million has been spent.

Cardenas said he was one of the council members who approved the new facility in 2006, but "ever since then, it really hasn't set well with me."

Cardenas said he decided the city's elephant exhibit needed drastic changes after visiting Ruby, a former zoo elephant, at the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary in Stockton.

"You could see in her eyes, she looked healthy. She was interacting with the other elephants," he said.

At the news conference, which included celebrity animal lovers Barker, Silverstone, Robert Culp and Esai Morales, the councilman played a video of the zoo's only pachyderm, Billy. The elephant was seen bobbing his head - a behavior that animal advocates say is caused by the psychological stress of living in confinement.

Barker said Cardenas' proposal is "the perfect solution" for Billy and other elephants scheduled to arrive at the zoo.

Lewis defended the zoo's care of the elephant, saying Billy bobs his head when zoo personnel come to feed or care for him.

"Is it a normal elephant behavior? No. Is it pathological? No. It's a Billy behavior," Lewis said.

Cardenas said a sanctuary would cost $10 million. The unfinished elephant habitat at the zoo could be turned over to giraffes, saving the city $20 million, he said.

A City Council panel will review the proposal Nov. 6.

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