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Zoo's elephant exhibit draws sharp debate

November 19, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
Animal rights activists converged on L.A. City Hall Wednesday. They want the city to halt construction of a new elephant exhibit at the L.A. Zoo. As an alternative, they want a much bigger elephant sanctuary built in an outlying area. At City Hall, officials are divided on what's best for the animals. For the last 20 years, no animal at the L.A. Zoo has been fought over as much as the elephants. Wednesday, another philosophical debate that lasted almost four hours between Los Angeles City Council members, zoo officials and animal-rights activists over what to do with "Billy," the zoo's only remaining elephant, and the proposed Pachyderm Forest.

L.A. City Councilman Tony Cardenas wants to stop construction on the $40-million elephant exhibit at the L.A. Zoo because he says it's not humane enough. Instead he wants something better and much bigger. He wants to form a new committee to find at least 60 acres of land somewhere in Los Angeles to build a local sanctuary. And he has the backings of celebrities like Bob Barker.

The city has already spent more than $10 million on the zoo's new 3.5-acre exhibit. The zoo's director argues that making it bigger doesn't necessarily make it better. And on the zoo side, Councilman Tom LaBonge and actress Betty White say the exhibit has to be small enough to educate people. At least one educator at Wednesday's meeting agreed.

"It is in the best place it can be now. It can be improved. Let's give the L.A. Zoo the opportunity to do that. Let's put the money in public hands where it can be watched and closely monitored. Let's keep this animal accessible to the public school students," said LAUSD schoolteacher Mrs. Mendaville.

"Let's do get Billy out of that zoo, we're for that," said animal-rights activist Bob Barker. "Let's do close the elephant exhibit at the zoo. Zoos all over the country -- in fact, all over the world -- are closing elephant exhibits. Everybody knows that's passé. And let's do eventually get this sanctuary."

Councilman Cardenas's proposal to stop construction on the zoo's elephant exhibit has been referred to the City Council's Budget and Finance Committee and a motion to shut down the Pachyderm Forest is expected to be back before council in the next two weeks

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