Asian elephants Billy, Tina and Jewel are not healthy, happy or thriving at Los Angeles Zoo, according to California Supreme Court judge John L. Segal, who on July 24 issued an injunction against the zoo forbidding the use of bull hooks and electric shocks to control or train the animals — methods the zoo denies using — and requiring that the zoo exercise the animals for at least two hours a day and regularly till the soil in their exhibit space, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The ruling stems from a 2007 lawsuit originally filed by the actor Robert Culp, who passed away in 2010, and real estate broker Aaron Leider. It alleged that the zoo was not providing adequate space and natural conditions for the elephants.
Billy the elephant has been at Los Angeles Zoo since 1989. He was joined by Tina and Jewel in 2010 just before the zoo opened its new $42 million Elephants of Asia exhibit.
In his 56-page decision, Segal ruled that the elephants do not need to be moved, but he strongly criticized the zoo's actions and the health of the elephants.
"Contrary to what the zoo's representatives may have told the Los Angeles City Council in order to get construction of the $42 million exhibit approved and funded, the elephants are not healthy, happy, and thriving," he wrote. He called the elephants' lives "empty, purposeless, boring, and occasionally painful."
He also levied heavy criticism against zoo staff, writing that the employees who testified in the trial "appear to be in the dark about normal and abnormal behavior of elephants, in denial about the physical and emotional difficulties of the elephants they manage and whose lives they control, and under the misconception that the elephants prefer to live their lives in an exhibit with human companions rather than with other elephants."
Segal did agree with the defense that the zoo's conduct was not abusive and is not cruel "beyond the 'ordinary' circumstance of captivity," but he said the animals were not receiving proper care and affection.
In a prepared statement, the Los Angeles Zoo said it does not use bull hooks and is glad that the judge did not order the exhibit to be closed. "We are pleased that the court did not agree with the plaintiff's request to close the elephant exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo. This case, which began before the new habitat was initiated, focused largely on out-dated information and animal care practices and does not reflect the animal care decisions that have been made in recent years to improve the elephant habitat at the Los Angeles Zoo... The L.A. Zoo does not use bull hooks and has no plans to utilize them in the daily management of our elephants. This was stated repeatedly during the trial."
Last Chance for Animals founder Chris DeRose, who has campaigned against the zoo's elephant exhibit, called for the exhibit to be closed and the elephants moved to a sanctuary "where they can have the room they need to roam, forage and bond with other elephants."
Related animal story on MNN: 6 of the saddest zoos in the world