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.