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Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Troubled Girl and the $50 Million Home

No, you aren't reading another late-breaking Britney update. This is an update on Ruby, the lesser-known, 45-year-old African elephant who spends her days in solitary confinement at the LA Zoo.

To recap Ruby's story, she was brought to the U.S. from her native habitat in the 1960s and has since been shuffled between an animal park, a circus, and municipal zoos. As recently as 2003 she was transferred 2,200 miles to the Knoxville Zoo only to be ordered returned to Los Angeles just 18 months later by then-Mayor Jim Hahn.

Last May, despite a flurry of letters and Council testimony by pachyderm researchers and animal welfare advocates, including Dr. Charlotte Laws and game show host Bob Barker, recommending that the zoo's three elephants be transferred to the 2,300-acre PAWS animal sanctuary in San Andreas, your City Council and Mayor made the morally and fiscally reckless decision to approve construction of an expanded 3.5-acre elephant exhibit at the LA Zoo.

Only Council Members Zine and Rosendahl voted against the projected $40-60 million boondoggle, correctly pointing out that while indeed larger, the exhibit was woefully inadequate to meet the needs of the elephants, who, in the wild often walk distances equal to the Santa Monica Pier from the LA Zoo in the course of one day.

One month after Council voted and the Mayor signed, Ruby's long-time companion, 48-year-old Gita unexpectedly died in her enclosure of complications reportedly stemming from chronic arthritis and other debilitating foot and joint syndromes brought on by years of standing on hard, concrete surfaces.

Gita's untimely death (elephants live 60-70 years in the wild) reignited the push to send both of the zoo's remaining elephants, Ruby and Billy, a 22-year-old Indian elephant, to PAWS, but seven months passed before the issue finally resurfaced on City Hall's radar last month, prompted by the Los Angeles Zoo Commission itself endorsing the retirement plan for Ruby.

To date, over $250,000 has been raised to transport and care for Ruby, and Mr. Barker has pledged matching funds of up to $300,000. Mayor Villaraigosa says he must weigh the desires of "two very strong centers of influence in our community," but at this point, sending Ruby to PAWS is simply a matter of common sense.

Ruby's plight is only a symptom of the problem. With the "elephant issue" once again on the front burner and the new exhibit still years from completion, the Mayor and City Council should seize this opportunity to demonstrate some real leadership and hit at the root of the problem.

New York City and San Francisco have already dismantled their elephant exhibits. Now it's time to give Los Angeles' elephants—and taxpayers—a break.

Note: For further details on the expensive, inadequate elephant exhibit City Council approved last year, please read Dr. Laws' excellent essay, Haste, Waste and Mammoth Misconceptions.


Anonymous Anonymous said:

The media is reporting that no one has seen Ruby at the LA Zoo since she was transported here. LA Zoo officials aren't allowing any photos of her to be let out. Maybe Zuma can dig into this and find out what's up. Maybe he can get a photo of her and put it up for us.

February 25, 2007 8:10 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

So MS gave you the keys to the castle. Good, well-written post AW.

And by all means keep up the cyber muckraking!

February 25, 2007 8:49 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Glad you are keeping the elephant issue alive, Soloman. The public needs to be reminded that AV did not fulfill his pachyderm promise.

February 25, 2007 11:29 AM  

Blogger Antonio Watch said:

Thanks all!

8:10, female African elephants need to live in groups of at least three other females.

As I understand it, Ruby is in solitary confinement because she cannot get along with Billy, the zoo's male Indian elephant.

This means Ruby won't even be allowed into the new exhibit once it's completed.


February 25, 2007 11:55 AM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

$50 million dollors in "UNION" work. That is why !!

February 25, 2007 6:47 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

Please, please, please City Council and Mayor Villaragosa count your money.

You are rich enough.

It is time to pay back your karmic debts.

Start with helping Ruby.

Thank You.

February 25, 2007 7:21 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:


February 25, 2007 7:59 PM  

Anonymous Anonymous said:

FYI: PAWS will not accept Billy as they will not take bull elephants which is unfortunate as it is difficult to find a good home for male elephants.

I could support elephant sanctuaries wholeheartedly if they would let nature to take it's course and allow their elephants the opportunity to breed and be a real elephant family. To see elephants in the wild is truly amazing because you can see a herd of all sizes and ages.

Also, Billy and Ruby cannot be mixed because there is the potential for herpes transmission between the two types of elephants.

I am not against elephants in zoos IF they have adequate space and husbandry. I know that the LA Zoo has excellent elephant keepers who care deeply about their elephants but the situation has deteriorated too far to continue keeping elephants in Los Angeles. I doubt that the LA Zoo has even started to consider what they will put in their $40 million exhibit which probably won't even be finished for four years (despite what they say). And to keep those poor elephants in isolation is cruel, cruel, cruel.

Antonio should reach into his pants to see what's there and maybe he'll find the balls to make right by Ruby and Billy. The Zoo Director certainly seems to be having a problem making a decision! Maybe it's time for his boss to step in and do it for him.

February 25, 2007 10:16 PM  

Blogger Antonio Watch said:


Well stated, and thanks for the info on Billy/PAWS. Are there other sanctuaries in the U.S. that would accept him?

February 25, 2007 11:09 PM  

Anonymous Kim said:

FYI -- PAWS will accept male elephants. In fact, they will be taking Nicholas from the Hawthorn Corp in late March.
www.pawsweb.org/site/news/index.htm(1st news story on the page)

February 26, 2007 10:38 AM  

Anonymous Matt Dowd said:

one correction to the story: Gita didn't die unexpectedly in the enclosure, she took her own life in protest at the condition she was in.

Don't tell me an animal as intelligent as this doesn't know what its doing. she said "enough is enough" and sat down. Lets be blunt and open, the elephant didn't just 'die' suddenly.
She was saying something. She also did it when nobody was watching her. I believe that when an elephant does that, it forever taints that place and all future elephants will sense that. Its more tragic than a simple death, its a suicide. let's not understate that.

February 26, 2007 10:40 AM  

Blogger Antonio Watch said:

Kim, thanks for clearing that up, and Matt, I think you're right on target.

If any of you come across any new developments in the case (including photos as suggested by 8:10), please click this link or my Blogger avatar and send me an email.

I'll do my best to keep this issue alive.

February 26, 2007 5:50 PM  

Anonymous Kim said:

In response to 8:10 -- a few weeks ago the zoo finally let the media in to see Ruby. Ch. 4 still has the video up http://video.nbc4.tv/player/?id=64086

February 27, 2007 9:27 AM  

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