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.