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Council panel wants health study for zoo elephant

Independent Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — A City Council committee has recommended that Billy, an elephant that has lived at the Los Angeles Zoo for most of his 30 years, undergo an independent health study by a three-member panel of outside experts who are not too closely associated with any zoos.

The Arts, Entertainment, Parks and River Committee has been considering the parameters of a health study of the pachyderm since January, when it directed city staff to report on the feasibility of forming a three-person independent working group of veterinarians not connected to the zoo to offer an opinion on Billy’s health and habitat.

The potential study stems from a City Council motion to have Billy moved from the Los Angeles Zoo to a sanctuary over what City Councilman Paul Koretz calls an “unnatural” and “restricted” habitat for the animal.

The committee in June rejected a report from the Office of the Chief Legislative Analyst and the Department of Recreation and Parks over concerns that the recommended guidelines would result in a panel too closely connected with zoos.

The report said the Office of the Chief Legislative Analyst consulted zoo experts in Los Angeles, San Diego and other locations to identify medical experts with the appropriate expertise, and it was determined that the experts to be consulted should be licensed veterinarians certified by the American College of Zoological Medicine.

Even though the experts would not be from the Los Angeles Zoo, Koretz has been saying the panel should include experts not closely associated with any zoo.

“Ever since the committee decided in January to move in the direction of a health and welfare assessment of Billy, my primary interest has been to encourage you to make sure it was done independently by fully qualified professionals, and I believe that’s been the (committee’s goal, as well,” said Koretz, who chairs the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee.

The guidelines for the panel that were approved by the committee are to seek advice from licensed veterinarians certified by the American College of Zoological Medicine, the American College of Animal Welfare, or the U.S. Department of Agriculture Animal Plant Health Inspection Service National Veterinary Accreditation Program.

Billy has long been the subject of protests against his captivity, while the zoo has defended its care of the elephant as exceeding the standards set out by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Because males and females living in captivity must be kept separate, none of the zoo’s elephants can use the exhibit’s entire space and Billy does not get the daily exercise he needs to be both physically and psychologically healthy, according to Koretz.

Billy’s welfare has been a longtime focus of animal welfare activists, and a January meeting of the committee about the elephant was attended by celebrities Cher and Lilly Tomlin, who both called for an independent study of his health.

“The zoo vets are not totally reliable. We have found that to be true over the years,” Tomlin told City News Service after she gave similar comments to the committee. “We can’t get the records we need, we can’t get any kind of response as to his real health, his real issue. And we feel that he is in pretty dire circumstances.”

Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash, whose real name is Saul Hudson, also attended the January meeting, but was on the opposing side as a trustee of the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, the zoo’s fundraising arm. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member said many people are “woefully out of touch with the facts, and I think the facts are what are important here, and you should support the facts and the Los Angeles Zoo’s elephant program and vote down this motion.”

Zoo Director John Lewis defended the zoo’s elephant habitat at the earlier meeting and said Billy “is not suffering. He’s in good health.”

 

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