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A Message from Dennis Kucinich

For Immediate Release:
Contact: Nathan White (202)225-5871

Kucinich Asks LA City Council to Close Pachyderm Enclosure

Washington D.C. (November 19, 2008) – Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) today asked members of the Los Angeles City Council to reject a measure that would expand the LA County Zoo’s “Pachyderm Forest.” Instead of expanding the space, Kucinich called upon Council Members to release the lone captive elephant to sanctuary.

In 2006, the LA City Council voted to approve a $40 million dollar project to expand the elephant habitat from two acres to four acres. Two months later an elephant named Gita died, leaving just one elephant named Billy in captivity.

Billy has a rare habit of bobbing and swaying his head. In several news reports, elephant expert Joyce Poole is quoted as saying, “I know that some people believe that elephants do that in the wild, but having observed elephants for many, many years, seeing perhaps 10,000 different individuals … I have never seen head-bobbing and I have never seen swaying. This type of behavior is pathological. It is a result of being in a confined space."

“In the wild, Asian elephants can live 50 to 70 years, African elephants up to 80 years. It is a matter of record that fifteen elephants have died in the LA Zoo since 1974 before reaching 20 years of age. Cramped confinement of such majestic creatures is cruel and inhumane,” Kucinich wrote in a letter to the LA City Council.

The full text of the letter follows: 

November 19, 2008

Los Angeles City Council
200 North Spring Street
Lost Angeles, Ca  90012

Dear Councilmembers:

I strongly urge your support for the motion that will come before the Council today to close the elephant exhibit and release the lone remaining elephant to sanctuary rather than bringing in more elephants and placing them in a new zoo exhibit.

As a former member of the Cleveland City Council, I know full well the demands upon your time.  I also know it is helpful to get new information when confronted with a decision or a vote. So when I was contacted by some of your constituents, prior to contacting you, I decided to do some research on the issue of elephants and zoo confinement which I believes merits your consideration. 

I recommend to your attention a 2005 study of Optimal Conditions for Captive Elephants: A Report by the Coalition for Captive Elephant Well-Being by Lisa Kane, JD, Debra Forthman, Ph.D., and David Hancocks. The authors, experts on elephant welfare, behavior and zoo naturalism, review relevant research of the natural space, or home range, of various types of elephants.  Their research describes the “home range” parameters or the natural space of an elephant in the wild (in kilometers) for specific types of elephants.

I used the “Ask” search engine calculator , which converts square kilometers to acres, so that I could provide you with a comparison of the area of the natural environment of a specific type of elephant compared with the area of a confined environment.

African Home Range (Female) 
34 square kilometers (8,401 acres) to 800 square kilometers (197,684 acres).

Asian Elephant Home Range (Male)
 200 square kilometers (49,421 acres) to 235 square kilometers (58,069 acres).

African Cow/Calf Herds Home Range
50 square kilometers (12,355 acres) to hundreds of square kilometers (24,710+ acres).

African Bull Elephants Home Range
500 square kilometers (123,552 acres) to 1,500 square kilometers (370,658 acres).

For comparison, the City of Los Angeles is located upon 469.1 square miles which is equal to 300,000 acres.  The new elephant exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo is to be on 3.6 acres.  It has been said that up to 10 elephants would be housed in the new acreage.

Billy, the Asian elephant, is currently the only elephant living at the LA Zoo.  He has spent 24 years in an enclosure that encompasses only 0.6 acres. Cramped confinement of such majestic creatures is cruel, inhumane, and can be threatening to the health of the elephant.  Indeed, a review of necropsy reports of at least 12 which elephants who died in captivity at the LA Zoo over the past three decades shows various states of degenerative joint disease and fatal orthopedic disabilities associated with lack of mobility due to close captivity.

“Elephants’ space requirements are driven in part by their size.  Equally important is their natural history.  They are intensely social, physically powerful animals built to roam large tracts of land searching for water, foraging for food, minerals and exploring and investigating their physical environment.  They also travel considerable distances in order to socialize with family, kin and conspecifics.”

The writers cite research which “argues that geographic range is important precisely because its implications are ‘frequently ignored’ by the zoo community (Forthman 1998, 238).”  They point out that “Elephants need for space is not only driven by their body size but also by their key characteristics as highly social, physically vigorous individuals.  Elephants need for space is also a function of the species natural history playing out in a warm climate over large tracts of land.”

In the wild, Asian elephants can live 50 to 70 years, African elephants up to 80 years. It is a matter of record that fifteen elephants have died in the LA Zoo since 1974 before reaching 20 years of age. Cramped confinement of such majestic creatures is cruel and inhumane.

Two years ago the LA Zoo made the right decision to release Ruby, the African elephant, to sanctuary, but only after she exhibited severe depression and rapidly declining health. Once Ruby was moved to a sanctuary she began to exhibit behaviors more in line with normal elephants, behaviors which animal experts said she had never exhibited while in the LA Zoo, due to the injurious effect of close confinement.

Elephants are particularly vulnerable to foot and joint disease as well as mental disorders while in the zoo environment.  As such, the Zoo’s current plans for expansion will result in the continuation and enlargement of an inhumane and unhealthy environment for elephants. It is impossible to see how the LA Zoo will adequately provide for the proper veterinary care of 10 or more elephants, especially at an annual veterinary cost of $120,000 per elephant per year.  

All across America, zoos are reevaluating the practice of keeping elephants in small confinements.  I humbly request that you consider the research I have presented and support today’s motion which will ensure sanctuary conditions for the housing of elephants by the LA Zoo, and begin consideration of an alternative use of the new facility which can still be educationally rewarding for the public.


Dennis J. Kucinich
Member of Congress

If you think this was a good move, contact Congressman Kucinich and thank him!

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Nick #

    Hurrah for Dennis Kucinich, my favorite member of Congress!

    November 20, 2008
  2. Nella #

    Totally agreed with the sentiment of the letter, but head-bobbing etc are *not* rare habits. Kucinich needs to go and check out any of the thankfully dwindling lines of circus elephants who can still sadly be found chained on concrete and pretty much uniformly exhibiting this habit. 🙁

    November 20, 2008
  3. You are right, Nella, I think they meant this is rare in wild elephants. Head bobbing is common in many long term caged animals and is a symptom of psychosis.

    In this day and age of computers we don't need live or dead specimens of animals for casual study or entertainment.

    I hope that someday we will go to the zoo to see the last of the dairy cows. Hopefully in our lifetimes all zoos will be outlawed. If people want to see elephants they can go to Africa. In this day and age of airplanes, you don't need the elephant to be captured and brought to you. Can't afford airfare? Look at a photo on the internet.

    November 21, 2008

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