by Piper Hoffman
July 30, 2012
Los Angeles zoo officials who believe they are treating their
elephants well are
"delusional," according to federal judge John L. Segal. As the
Los Angeles Times reports,
"He painted a particularly
unflattering portrait of the zoo's 'senior elephant keeper,' who he
wrote displayed at trial 'somewhat shocking gaps in her knowledge'
and 'surprising misconceptions' and who maintained an
'anthropomorphic fantasy' about the animals' happiness."
found that "the elephants' existence is 'empty, purposeless,
boring and occasionally painful.'"
The judge's harsh
criticism was his conclusion in a lawsuit against the L.A. Zoo for
abusing and neglecting the elephants caged there. Judge Segal
stopped short of calling the zoo's treatment "abuse" and failed to
confiscate the elephants from the zoo, but he agreed with the
plaintiffs that the elephants were suffering terribly despite the
zoo's "delusion" that they were treated
better than many humans.
accused the zoo of penning the elephants in a space that is too
small, causing boredom and excess weight gain: the elephants have
only three acres, but in the wild they would roam for up to 18 hours
a day. The plaintiffs also alleged that the ground in the exhibit
was too hard, leading to foot and joint problems. The one male
elephant among the three in the zoo, Billy, bobs his head up and
down for hours, a sign of emotional and mental distress.
commentators had been skeptical about the plaintiffs' allegations
that the zoo mistreated and neglected the elephants, including
interviewers on Varney & Co., a Fox Business Network television show
I appeared to defend the goals of the lawsuit.
of the lawsuit argued that zoos are important to instill a love for
animals in children. Judge Segal
thought otherwise, especially when the animals are so obviously
"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
The L.A. Times reported that the judge ordered the
zoo to "make changes that include instituting daily two-hour
forbidding the use of electric shocks and and tilling the habitat's
soil so the ground is softer."
This is the first time that a
judge has ordered a zoo "to improve the way it cares for its
animals," according to Plaintiff Aaron r and
The Huffington Post. The judge's recognition of elephants'
emotions and mental need for stimulation is part of a swelling sea
change from recent times when animals' feelings were not
acknowledged or taken into account under the law.