Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Lack of Social Bonds

Male elephants in the wild exist within a complex community and form relationships with the elephants around them. Based on the current prolific research on elephant social bonds, male elephants live within their matriarchal family group until their early teens. At that time, young bulls leave their mother's tightly bonded family and begin to interact with other teenage and adult males, as well as other family groups. In fact, interactions with adult bulls is crucial to elephant social development. Once they reach sexual maturity, males continue to interact with and form lasting bonds with other elephants. It is estimated that wild male elephants spend at least 50% of their time with other males, 25% of their time with females, and 25% of their time alone when searching for mates.

Despite the facts above, the Los Angeles Zoo has kept Billy in solitary confinement since 1989! Not only was the bond between Billy and his mother ruptured when he was only about four years old, he was permanently severed from his family and denied the company of other males and unrelated females for his entire life. Billy has been deprived of companionship, mental stimulation, and crucial social learning opportunities. In no way does Billy's lonely existence within an artificial enclosure mirror how his counterparts live in the wild. And to compound this injustice, the Los Angeles Zoo attempts to justify its practices by misinforming the public. Both the written information provided in the elephant exhibit, and the "education specialists" that work the exhibit, state the Billy is kept isolated because that is how he would live in the wild.

The Elephant Charter, found on the website for Elephant Voices, states: "We deprive captive male elephants of normal, healthy socio-sexual development when we deny them access to a diversity of social partners, hold them in isolation and restrict  their movement and activity to small enclosures. Our care of captive elephants must recognize the importance of social relationships."

For further information see:

Lee, P. C. & Moss, C. J. (2009). Welfare and well-being of captive elephants: Perspectives from wild elephant life histories. In D. L. Forthman, L.F. Kane, D. Hancocks, & P. F. Waldau (Eds.), An Elephant in the Room: The Science and Well-Being of Elephants in Captivity (pp. 22-38). North Grafton, MA: Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy.

O'Connell, C. (2015). Elephant Don: The Politics of a Pachyderm Posse. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Poole, J. & Granli, P. (2009). Mind and movement: Meeting the interests of elephants. In D. L. Forthman, L.F. Kane, D. Hancocks, & P. F. Waldau (Eds.), An Elephant in the Room: The Science and Well-Being of Elephants in Captivity (pp. 2-21). North Grafton, MA: Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy.

The Lack Of Space

On the website for Elephant Voices (, Dr. Joyce Poole and Petter Granli describe optimal conditions for elephants based on decades of research and observations of elephants in both wild and captive environments.  As the largest land mammal on Earth, one of the most important requirements for the physical and psychological well-being of the elephant is space. Exactly how much space an individual elephant needs is difficult to determine simply because elephants operate within a community, not as individuals. Poole and Granli state that "elephants need enough space to be elephants" and go about their elephant business, which, at a minimum, includes living in a herd of at least 20 to 30 individuals of all ages and sexes, the ability to choose among social partners and/or choose to be alone, as well as engaging in natural behaviors such as foraging, dusting, mud wallowing, swimming, resting, playing, and running about. They estimate that ideal conditions for elephant life can only be achieved when elephants have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of acres to roam with their family group.

In stark contrast, Billy the male elephant at the Los Angeles Zoo, lives alone on about one acre of usable space surrounded by metal bars and the constant clicking of electric wires. In addition, heavy gates keep Billy from using the entire acre at one time, and he is separated from the two female elephants at all times.

"I am a prisoner pacing my cell,
Three steps back my corner of hell,
Lock me away and swallow the key,
But someday I shall be free."

From "I Am A Wanderer" by Joan Baez

Monday, December 28, 2015

Billy the Elephant

Billy is a male Asian Elephant born in 1985 to a wild herd in Malaysia. Tragically, he was kidnapped from his family and acquired by the Los Angeles Zoo in 1989, where he has since lived in isolation. He has been denied both the environment and society necessary for his physical and psychological well-being. In no way does Billy's current existence behind bars mirror how his counterparts live in the wild.

As a result of his isolation and lack of space, Billy stands for hours in a corner of his enclosure, as far from zoo visitors as he can get, swaying and bobbing his head. According to Dr. Gay Bradshaw and Dr. Lori Marino: "Billy's head bobbing is consistent with severe mental and emotional distress documented in caged animals and imprisoned humans." (

For more information on Billy's condition, and the background of my campaign to Free Billy, please see the interview in Psychology Today at 
And to join in the campaign to Free Billy, please sign the petition at:
Together we can make a difference for Billy and take a stand against captivity for all animals.