A judge has strongly criticized L.A. Zoo for its care and housing of elephants, but found that the treatment did not amount to abuse.
Superior Court Judge John L. Segal ruled that the Elephants of Asia exhibit at L.A. Zoo may remain open, providing that keepers implement several changes to improve conditions for the animals.
Ruling on a lawsuit filed by the late actor Robert Culp and real estate agent Aaron Leider in 2007, Segal criticized the conditions in which the elephants have been kept and ordered keepers to exercise them for at least two hours every day.
He also banned the use of bullhooks and electric prods on the animals, although zoo spokesmen claim that these devices have not been used at the zoo in decades.
Culp and Leider wanted the $42 million exhibit shut down, arguing that it was too small to humanely house elephants, and that the zoo was guilty of animal abuse.
Although Judge Segal agreed that the elephants “are not happy, healthy, and thriving,” he stopped short of closing the exhibit altogether.
Instead, he ruled that the zoo must exercise the animals for at least two hours a day, weather and other conditions permitting.
He also required the zoo to till the exhibit’s soil regularly in order to prevent health problems such as arthritis or degenerative bone disease caused by hard-packed earth.
The zoo currently houses three Asian elephants in a 3.8 acre enclosure: Billy, a 27-year-old bull elephant, and Tina and Jewel, both females rescued from an abusive circus environment.
According to the L.A Times, zoo director John Lewis, who was a named defendant and testified at trial, said that the judge’s decision was based on limited, narrow evidence that did not accurately reflect conditions at the zoo.
He added that critics were trying to “drag down the zoo” based on history.
In a written statement, L.A. Zoo officials said, “We disrespectfully disagree with the court’s opinion regarding the competency and validity of our elephant program.
“As the people who provide the day to day care for these animals we are competent in what we do and dedicated to the well-being of our elephants.”
However, animal rights groups were delighted by the ruling.
PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Delcianna Winders applauded the court’s banning of bullhooks and said that the ruling was particularly relevant in light of the recent protests regarding the use of elephants in circuses.
In an emailed statement, she wrote, “The court’s decision is especially timely, as Ringling Bros. – which video evidence reveals routinely beats elephants with these weapons before they go on stage – is currently in Ontario, California, and will be traversing the state for the next two months.
“Just last week, humane societies across the state called on the public to boycott Ringling, citing the circus’s routine bullhook and other abuse.
“With the court’s recognition that the use of the bullhook is inherently abusive and unlawful, it is all the more crucial that everyone who cares about animals steer clear of Ringling and other circuses that use elephants and that state and local law enforcement vigorously enforce cruelty to animal laws.”