Both sides can claim victories in a lawsuit against the LA Zoo over the treatment of Billy the elephant -- a beast the suit described as overweight, depressed and sexually frustrated.
Judge John L. Segal ruled Tuesday that Billy could remain at the LA Zoo elephant habitat, but only as long as zookeepers make changes that include instituting daily two-hour exercise periods, forbidding the use of electric shocks and tilling the habitat's soil so the ground is softer, reports the Los Angeles Times.
Aaron Leider, a real estate agent who filed the lawsuit, called the decision a win despite the fact that his suit called for Billy and the other elephants to be removed from the zoo and sent to an animal sanctuary. On his Facebook page, he wrote, "WE WON OUR LAWSUIT AGAINST THE LA ZOO!" Leider also pointed out that for the first time in history, a zoo has been ordered by a judge to improve the way it cares for its animals.
Despite ruling that Billy should stay at the zoo, Judge Segal unleashed 56 pages of scathing criticism about the ignorance of the zoo's staff. He also wrote that the trial proved life for the zoo's three elephants is "empty, purposeless, boring, and occasionally painful."
More from the opinion:
Their lives are supervised, managed, and controlled by zoo employees who appear to be in the dark about normal and abnormal behavior of elephants, in denial about the physical and emotional difficulties of the elephants they manage and whose lives they control, and under the misconception that the elephants prefer to live their lives in an exhibit with human companions rather than with other elephants. The elephants are hardly, as defendants contend, “thriving.”
Judge Segal also suggested that LA Zoo visitors could see that Billy and his elephant companions were clearly unhappy, negating the purpose of exhibiting wild animals for the public's education and entertainment. "The Elephants of Asia exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo is not a happy place for elephants," wrote Segal. "Nor is it for members of the public who go to the zoo and recognize that the elephants are neither thriving, happy, nor content."
Still, the judge stopped short of calling for the closure of the habitat because it was inconclusive as to how much space captive elephants need to thrive, reports the San Gabriel Valley Tribune.
The LA Zoo sent this prepared statement to the Los Feliz Ledger:
We are pleased that the court did not agree with the plaintiff’s request to close the elephant exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo... This case, which began before the new habitat was initiated, focused largely on out-dated information and animal care practices and does not reflect the animal care decisions that have been made in recent years to improve the elephant habitat at the Los Angles Zoo.
We respectfully disagree with the court’s opinion regarding the competency and validity of our elephant program ... As the people who provide the day to day care for these animals we are competent in what we do and dedicated to the well-being of our elephants.
Leider's 2007 lawsuit had alleged that the ground of Billy's habitat was too hard, causing the elephant to suffer from cracked toes and weary joints. The suit also claimed that for most of the year, Billy was frustrated over his heightened state of sexual arousal because he couldn't follow his instinct to search for mates (from 2007-2010, Billy was the only elephant at the zoo).
In reaction to his frustration, claimed the suit, Billy walked in circles and bobbed his head for hours -- something experts say is a sign of emotional turmoil.
Click through photos below of Billy and the LA Zoo's Elephants of Asia exhibit:
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