An Election Issue Of Elephantine Proportions

elephant.jpgForget about homelessness, crime, education, gridlock, potholes, police, grafitti, sanitation, sequenced traffic signals, affordable housing, or making L.A. more business friendly. Instead, in these last stagnant and unremarkable days before the election tomorrow the hot-button issue that’s polarized the mayoral candidates is pachyderms ó specifically the elephants of the Los Angeles Zoo. In one corner is Jim-MAY “Seize The Day After Tomorrow” Hahn who favors keeping the elephants in L.A., and in the other corner is ‘Tonio “Say My Name Say My Name” Villaraiblahblah who wants to ship them out to a sanctuary up Northern California way.

Disclosure: I work at the Zoo, but my bottom line is that I’m all for doing whatever’s best for the Zoo’s elephants ó†whether that’s keeping them or moving them. Sanctuaries are a great solution in many cases, but they’re not the automatic be-all/end-all. And contrary to the knocks taken from animal rights activists, the elephants are in great hands at the Zoo, which has an animal keeper staff and administration terrifically dedicated to caring for all its creatures.

Whoever the mayor is after Tuesday and whatever the decision that’s ultimately made regarding the elephants after that, in the meantime my recommendation is that ‘Tonio shut that flapping hole between his nose and chin and take the time necessary to educate himself rather than preemptively undermining the Zoo and its management like he did when he answered KNBC reporter Doug Kriegel, who asked him whether the Zoo’s elephant exhibit should be shut down: “Well,” he said, “as mayor of the City of Los Angeles, I’m certainly going to work toward that goal. I think we need to move the elephants out.”

Hell, if Jim-MAY can be quoted respectfully defering to Zoo chief John Lewis with “I’m going to listen to the zoo director, an excellent professional in this area,” ‘Tonio should at least be able to extend such professional courtesy as well.

4 thoughts on “An Election Issue Of Elephantine Proportions”

  1. Elephants of the Los Angeles City Zoo
    Listed in Chronological Order
    All information on the proceeding report is from an original Los Angeles Zoo source: taxon report, Zoo View, zookeeper logs, veterinary reports, press releases, USDA reports, and picture documentation, unless noted otherwise.

    ID#: Does not appear in zoo records
    Arrived: Does not appear in zoo records
    Euthanized: 7/19/1984
    Unable to be moved at scheduled time because of over drugging. Chained, starved, dehydrated and partially rotting, this elephant was left in the sun to die.
    DOB: Does not appear in zoo records
    Albert was used for the elephant rides at the LA Zoo. It is unclear in zoo records if Albert and Tumai are the same elephant, but most likely. Neither names are listed on taxon report.

    Joyce I
    ID#: 00222
    Arrived: 1/4/53
    Euthanized: 4/17/79
    Chronic foot problems including abscesses, soreness, and oozing puss.
    Wild Born. Donation from Learmont.

    ID#: 00224
    Arrived: 9/27/60
    Euthanized: 8/19/77
    “Ventral abdominal edemaÖchronic lameness of front left elbow.”
    Euthanization performed by Dr. Thomas.
    East African
    August 1959
    Wild Born. Purchase from Thousand Oaks Circus.

    Yís Guy
    ID#: Does not appear in zoo records
    Arrived: Does not appear in zoo records
    Death/Leave: Date and explanation do not appear in zoo records
    Yís Guy was pictured in the Summer 1965 issue of Zoo View.
    DOB: Does not appear in zoo records
    Yís Guy was 9 months when he arrived at the LA Zoo. Donation from Indian Guides of the Los Angeles Metropolitan YMCA. Yís Guy is not listed on taxon report.

    ID#: 03071
    Arrived: 12/2/66
    Still in residence
    East African
    Wild Born. Purchased from Ferndale/
    International Animal Exchange. In 1996, Tara developed two abscesses the size of goose eggs in her anus. Medical records indicate the “possibility that both lesions were caused by bull hooks.” Both vet and lab reports of August 1996 support this idea.

    ID#: Does not appear in zoo records
    Arrived: Does not appear in zoo records
    Death/Leave: Date and explanation do not appear in zoo records
    Zookeeperís log spans 1966 ñ 5/20/75
    DOB: Does not appear in zoo records
    Shared compound with Tara. Pumbie is not listed on taxon report.
    Name: Does not appear in zoo records
    ID#: 08315
    Arrived: 5/10/75
    Died: 12/1/75
    Reason: Does not appear in zoo records

    Mighty Mouse
    ID#: Does not appear in zoo records
    Arrived: 11/17/76
    Shipped out: 1/30/77
    Destination: Unknown. Does not appear in zoo records
    “Tusk abscessesÖcement at base of tusk.”
    DOB: Does not appear in zoo records
    Mighty Mouse was purchased from Lion Country Safari, Grand Prairie Texas. Mighty Mouse is not listed on taxon report.

    Josephine ID#: Does not appear in zoo records
    Arrived: 11/17/76
    Shipped out: 7/17/77
    Destination: Unknown. Does not appear in zoo records.
    “Bleeding from base of tusk.”
    DOB: Does not appear in zoo records
    Josephine was purchased from Lion Country Safari, Grand Prairie Texas. Josephine is not listed on taxon report.

    ID#: 09926
    Arrived: 11/28/77
    Euthanized: 5/25/84
    Rear legs injured, vaginal irritation and “hopeless prognosis given.”
    East African
    Wild Born. Purchased from Jurgen Schulz, Animal Dealer.

    Joyce II
    ID#: 09754
    Arrived: 6/17/79
    Sold to Ferndale/International Animal Exchange: 5/29/91
    Like McClean, Joyce was also pushed in the moat by Tara, suffering scrapes on legs and inside mouth.
    Wild Born. Purchased from Jurgen Schultz, Animal Dealer. In May of 1990, shortly after Joyce was pushed in the moat, she was loaned out to International Animal Exchange (IAE), and housed at the Hawthorne Circus
    (John Cuneo). A year later she was sold to IAE. According to reliable sources, Joyce ended up at Circus Vargas.

    ID#: 000054
    Arrived: 7/14/80
    Died: 3/20/92
    The first attempt to move Hannibal was made 9/8/91. “Drugs
    administered. Hannibal responds aggressively to trainer” Refuses to enter truck. Because of extreme stress on animal, trip is delayed. Second attempt to transport made on 9/18/91. “Immobilization protocol given. Animal still down.” Trip delayed.
    Third attempt made on 3/18/92.

    ID#: 94264
    Arrived: 9/3/81
    Died: 3/31/86
    Sold to Gary Jacobson. Samson died during transportation, most likely from wrongly administered drugs. He easily entered the truck, but refused to stand. After being hosed and electrically shocked, he stood. Hours later he died.
    Wild born. Purchased from Redwood City. Several stories regarding disposal of carcass- buried in desert, buried in a construction sight. One week later in the Gulf of Mexico a dead African elephant was found floating.

    ID#: 004632
    Arrived: 4/18/94
    Died: 3/22/97
    Zoo reports claim salmonella infection as cause of death. Left
    unattended, without water while she slowly died. “Found dead” the next morning. 24-hour surveillance tape was requested immediately after her death, in writing, but it had been “inadvertently erased.” No documented account of actual evening of death. Necropsy showed evidence of TB. Had
    been sick for about one year previous to death.
    Wild born. Traded from Gary Johnson for Becky, Ginny, and Dixie.

    ID#: 004708
    Arrived: 10/27/94
    Sent to San Francisco Zoo: 11/20/97
    According to newspaper sources, Calle was sent because she injured a part-time zookeeper. Perhaps accidentally, (“Officials said at the time that Calle was not intending to attack Potter [injured zoo keeper].” LA Times 10/3/96), Potter was injured while instructing Calle to perform tricks for a gathering audience.

  2. Epilogue to the first comment from Flavia, who copied and pasted long-standing zoo elephant data found most likely on The Smoking Gun website into eighteen separate disjointed comments (perhaps for some sort of bombastic effect). In the interest of efficiency I opted to gratiously condense the information contained in those 18 posts into one easy-to-scroll comment.

    Since for whatever reason Flavia didn’t include any personal explanation or opinion, all I can infer is that Flavia’s very much in support of closing the Zoo’s exhibit and transferring its elephants to a sanctuary. I applaud her conviction. But I decry her tactics. On paper (or screen) some of the incidents Flavia’s listed paint the zoo as some sort of veterinary equivalent of the King/Drew Medical Center.

    It is not ó nor is it perfect (and neither are sanctuaries). But what the Zoo should be afforded is the opportunity to make decisions that deliver the best living arrangement for the elephants, which is why it and the city are spending millions to provide them with an expanded, state-of-the-art exhibit.

    Though past tragedies undoubtedly occured, today’s L.A. Zoo is a much different place, and (back to my point of the post) Villaraigosa’s seemingly knee-jerk comments failed to give it the consideration it deserves.

  3. I apologize for the lack of personal statements following my long comment. I posted all that information before starting my day this morning, and in the heat of finding this posting of yours such a big coincidence, since just yesterday I came across that exact piece of info while working with a friend of mine, which happens to be one of the activists you mentioned.

    And by the way, Will, I apologize again for the eighteen posts, and I thank you very much for taking the time in reading and reformatting them into a long one – that was due to a very mundane problem, that being, for some reason the comment field wouldn’t take more than a certain number of characters which wouldn’t accomodate all I wanted to express (besides the fact that the day started to happen before I was able to manifest my personal point of view about the matter). And I admit I had fun thinking it would have a “bombastic effect” (whooo, I’m a blog-terrorist! hehehe) but no, this was not my primary intention! :)

    Now for the part we were missing… Again, it was a shocking coincidence to me that in less than 24 hours I came across 2 diametrally opposed points of view: my good friend’s, mentioned above, and through all these records found throughout 2 years of research, and yours. I’m not a friend with this activist person just because she is an activist, and I [will go on] read[ing] everyday regardless of any divergence in such a controversy. My intention was to bring to light another side of the story; sorry, I still hadn’t understood that you had ever seen of these records or been aware of what they depict – have you? As someone who knows the animal keepers (or maybe you’re someone closely devoted to their care yourself, I don’t think you mentioned it), and knowledgeable of what the dynamics of a zoo are, do you think all these deaths are considered “normal”? How much would it take for all this scenario to change? And is it possible that it will change at all, or do elephants just NOT belong to zoos, circus and such?

    There’s also a very recent record of the whole story envolving Ruby, and her overwhelmingly stressful removal from the L.A. zoo to the Knoxville zoo. This event, in my opinion, doesn’t reflect that the zoo’s treatment towards elephants has evolved. I admit I heard plenty of the most “emotional” side of the story (ie, the activists’) – and I strongly recommend that anyone curious with the subject reads further information on – however, there are too strong words in the official (= “rational”?) declarations not to be emotionally touched.

    I think this subject is really complex and deep, and in my opinion, yes, it is a GREAT thing it’s being discussed along with our other “traditional” political issues – housing, education, sanitation.

    To me, Will, because there’s so much [politics] envolved in the issue other than the animals’ well being, there’s a lot of homework to be done before any decision is made towards one direction or another. Still, I feel Villaraigosa is doing his job better than Mr. Hahn is.

    Now Will, what I hadn’t shared either is that I have been a volunteer for animals for 15 years… half my life. In a way or another, and starting this story in my native country and continuing when moving to the U.S. And Will, believe me, each day you’ll think you’d seen enough of animal abuse, or you think you’re doing enough to prevent it, and that you thought of all the ways you could protect any animal from suffering. Unfortunately, “no” is what you find out to be the answer to all these questions you ask yourself.

    What I know in my heart is that animal rights is a field in which we, humans have very, very immature understanding. I certainly hope and do my best to make sure one day we will accomplish the optimum point of sharing this planet with other species… and that’s for our own good. Protecting animals, avoiding their suffering. Protecting, avoiding suffering. Forget whom.

    Will, thanks again for all your consideration and the time you took to reorganize and respond to my comment, and for reading all this. With all my respect, and sending you all my best,

    Flavia Faustini

  4. Flavia,

    Thank you for the follow up and for the kind words of appreciation. I was happy to consolidate the info you provided (and go contrary to the belief that I’m some sort of “my way or the highway” blogbully) because there are two sides to every story and, and what you posted is a perspective that warrants consideration.

    I had been aware of these records from a personal standpoint when they were first made available on The Smoking Gun website perhaps about two years ago. I’m in no position to vouch for their authenticity or factual accuracy.

    Do I consider the deaths “normal?” In the stark and damning context as the deaths are presented in the documents there are certainly questions raised and accusations made. I’m not trying to whitewash it when I say that “death is an integral part of zoos.” Could some of them have been prevented? I would love to say yes, but I am not in a position to second guess.

    As to what it would take to change and whether it’s possible to change at all, that too is beyond my purview. I do know that zoos are straddling a crossroads, and the L.A. Zoo is working hard to evolve. By that I mean to move from a place of entertainment to a place of education, conservation, recreation, and research. I do believe elephants have a place in zoos for those purposes.

    As to the emotionally charged saga of Ruby, I have no doubt the L.A. Zoo had her best interests at heart in providing her with the opportunity to join a larger group of her species in Knoxville. The Zoo was lambasted for “separating” Ruby from her longtime companion Gita (despite the fact that throughout their “relationship” Asian elephant Gita was often forced to be tolerant and submissive to the aggressive African elephant Ruby), and villified for how it handled Ruby’s transfer, but its motives were sound: to provide her with a more stimulating environment. The reality is such best laid plans didn’t work out. Ruby didn’t integrate with the Knoxville elephants and ultimately Ruby was brought back to the L.A. Zoo.

    You are absolutely correct that the issue of elephants in captivity is complex and deserving of discussion by our politicians.But I fault Villaraigosa for NOT discussing it. He never visited the L.A. Zoo and sat down with Zoo Director John Lewis. He never toured the elephant facilities and opened a dialog with the Zoo’s elephant keepers. All he did was hear and latch on to the hue and cry of the very vocal activists and protestors pushing their agenda and drop a bombshell statement because it was an opportunity to get more votes in the ballot box.

    Is my skepticism showing? Oops.

    Now that he’s been elected, I will be very surprised if he makes the elephants a real issue. As a candidate he can make bold calls about what’s best for them all he wants, but now that he’s mayor he’s going to have to sit down with the Zoo Chief and the city’s financial officer and crunch the numbers and bureaucracy and politics. Indeed, there’s tons of “homework” to do, as you recognized.

    And for good, bad or the status quo,

    Flavia, I greatly appreciate your point of view and all the background in animal activism and protection that you bring with you. I don’t have the tenure as a volunteer that you do, but I’ve spent more than half my life as a veritable ACLU-type spokesman for ALL creatures. People may shake their heads when I go out of my way to avoid running over an ant when I’m on my mountain bike or letting a cockroach scurry across the sidewalk uncrushed, but I truly believe that every single creature from has a place and a purpose on this planet , and it is not my place to take that away (unless said cockroach is making a break across my kitchen floor, of course).

    It’s my hope that the right decisions will be made not just in regards to the welfare of the zoo’s elephant but will continue to be made in regards to the future welfare of the zoo as an institution that we can all be proud of.

    Much respect to you in return,

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