Appellate Court Delivers Blow to L.A. Zoo

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Appellate Court Delivers Blow to L.A. Zoo

From In Defense of Animals (IDA)

In Defense of Animals (IDA) is applauding a 2nd District Court of Appeals decision issued 9/23/09 that will send a taxpayer lawsuit against the Los Angeles Zoo and its controversial $42 million elephant exhibit back to court for a full trial.

A panel of three justices reversed in full the Superior Court's dismissal of a suit filed in 2007 by lawyer David Casselman on behalf of actor Robert Culp and real estate agent Aaron Leider to stop the display of elephants at the L.A. Zoo.

The suit alleged ongoing illegal, damaging and wasteful actions by the zoo, including construction of an exhibit that will not provide the large spaces elephants need for health and well-being, perpetuating captivity-caused foot and joint diseases that kill elephants prematurely, and abusive handling practices. In their decision, the justices concluded, in part, that the “physical characteristics” of an elephant’s enclosure may constitute “abusive behavior” under California state law.

“I’m very happy the taxpayers of Los Angeles will have their day in court,” said IDA campaign director Catherine Doyle. “It’s wrong to waste precious city resources on an inadequate elephant exhibit that the city can’t afford and in which elephants will continue to suffer and die prematurely.”

Construction on the 3.5-acre elephant display continued shortly after the L.A. City Council voted in January to complete the exhibit. However, since that decision the zoo has twice returned to City Council for approval of funds to cover cost overruns in excess of $1 million, though the exhibit is still in the early stages of construction.

The zoo holds a lone male Asian elephant named Billy, despite the cruelty of keeping this highly social species in isolation. According to city documents, the cost to keep Billy alone is $156,000 annually. The new facility is being built to hold up to 11 elephants.

IDA filed a complaint with the Los Angeles Civil Grand Jury in August alleging the zoo, violated the California Public Records Act and covered up vital information in its quest to gain City Council approval for the new elephant exhibit. Among the information withheld from the council and the public: a fine paid by the zoo to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for inadequate veterinary care in the 2006 death of an elephant named Gita.