Zoo Elephant Fundraiser - Friends of 'Billy' Want Him Sent to Sanctuary

On November 16, Sunday afternoon, as an animal advocate, I attended an elephant conservation and advocacy fundraiser.

An African elephant family (Photo by Petter Granli).

The reception and presentation was sponsored by the Los Angeles Alliance for Elephants and was held to support the work of Dr. Joyce Poole, one of the world's foremost authorities on elephants, and her nonprofit organization, Elephant Voices (www.elephantvoices.org).  It was held in the Palisades, at the home of Patty Shenker and Doug Stoll.  Local elephant politics was also highlighted:  LA City Councilman Tony Cardenas was there to discuss his proposal which is pending in front of the LA City Council: to shut down the elephant exhibit at the LA Zoo and send its lone Asian elephant Billy to an elephant sanctuary.  Dr. Joyce Poole intends to testify in front of the council.

(L to R) Catherine Doyle, David Casselman, Councilman Cardenas, and Dr. Poole.

The Council meeting will be open to the public and is currently scheduled for Wed., Nov. 19 at LA City Hall, 200 N. Spring St., Room 340 at 10 AM.  However, before attending, please contact LA Alliance for Elephants' Catherine Doyle at [email protected] or phone 323 301 5730 to reconfirm time and date.

Dr. Joyce Poole shares her experiences with elephants at home of Patty Shenker.

Councilman Cardenas explained that in 2006 when the L.A. City Council members voted to spend $40 million on a new but still relatively very small elephant exhibit at the zoo, they were not given accurate information on the fate of elephants in zoos and in particular of elephants at the LA Zoo.  This information has come out later through a lawsuit, Culp v. LA Zoo, with lawyer David Casselman for plaintiff.  According to reports, 15 of the 27 elephants accounted for at the zoo were killed or died prematurely as a result of their treatment.  Six more were "unaccounted for."  One elephant, Gita, who the Zoo claimed was in perfect health, died two months later as a result of a condition she had at the time of the statement.

Billy, L.A. Zoo's lone elephant (Photo by Catherine Doyle).

Councilman Cardenas and all the several dozen elephant lovers in attendance at the reception are determined that this will not happen again.  Already Billy spends full time bobbing his head up and down, a behavior that Dr. Poole says is not a natural behavior in the wild. Councilman Cardenas said, "Twelve other cities have closed down their elephant exhibits; six have made policy to end elephant exhibits at zoos. Los Angeles needs to be number 19."  At the City Council committee meeting last week, Cardenas had presented the case, stating, "This city can't afford to build a $40 million mortuary."  Councilman Cardenas is a visionary and a hero to animal lovers.  He was also a co-sponsor of the bill to spay and neuter household pets.

(L to R) Georja Umano, Petter Granli, and Dr. Poole.

Dr. Joyce Poole has been studying elephants in the wild since 1975 and working for their conservation.  She uses the information and scientific data she collects, along with her husband, Petter Granli, to be a voice for the elephants both in the wild and in captivity.  (Petter gave me his business card, which is made out of elephant turd!) They, along with several other elephant biologists who have worked the longest in the field, have put together "The Elephant Charter," 13 principles based on elephant biology, which represents their consensus on the nature of elephants. (www.theelephantcharter.info)  

Poole is expert witness in the case, now eight years long, against using elephants in the Ringling Brothers circus.  She is also concerned with problems in the wild.  Poaching is on the rise again, with 20-25,000 elephants a year being killed for tusks.

Asian Elephants have big eyes (Photo by Petter Granli).

Most of her research has been based at Amboseli National Park in Kenya. Poole is now also beginning field research on Asian elephants in Sri Lanka.
Elephants live in families and extended families of 2 - 45 individuals, led by the oldest female matriarch.  Their social activities stretch out to clans and even strangers without aggression.  They keep up communication through touching one another and rumbling together with special kinds of sounds and body postures for various messages.  When greeting a fellow elephant they haven't seen for a long time, a vocal communication could last as long as five minutes.  Their sounds carry up to 10 kilometers, and they can recognize individual sounds of over 200 elephants from up to two kilometers.

They learn from each other how and what to eat and how to care for their young.  Young elephants born in zoos often don't fare well since they do not have the learning experiences from their mothers and aunts.

Tim Stahl with Dr. Poole and one of her elephant paintings.

Tanya Petrovna, CEO and Executive Chef of Native Foods, provided wonderful vegan hors d'oeuvres for the afternoon.  There was a silent auction, painting by Poole, her book, and a request for contributions for her work, whose operations run $250,000 per year.  Our lovely hostess, Patty Shenker, started the donations with a promise of a generous $25,000.  This was her second year hosting the fundraiser for Poole, along with her husband and six dogs.  As she commented to the group, "Animal work never stops."

Georja Umano is an actress-comedienne and animal advocate.

Photos by Tim Stahl except where noted.

L.A. City Council Meeting to Determine Fate of Billy and the Elephant Exhibit at L.A. Zoo

Members of the public may speak for one minute.

Wed., Nov. 19, 2008, 10 AM

LA City Hall
200 N. Spring St., Room 340
Los Angeles, CA 90012

Before attending, please contact LA Alliance for Elephants' Catherine Doyle at [email protected] or phone (323) 301-5730 to reconfirm time and date.

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