On January 14, 2016, the California Court of Appeals, Second Appellate District, upheld the trial court’s 2012 ruling in Leider v. Lewis. Basically, the appellate judges agreed that the Elephants of Asia Exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo may remain open, however, the injunctions requiring the zoo to exercise the elephants at least 2 hours per day, rototill the soil of the exhibit on a regular basis, and cease all us of bull hooks and electric shock for discipline purposes remain in effect. Justice Rubin stated: “We agree that the exhibit places the elephants in an unnatural environment that is perhaps only an echo of their life in the wild. Setting aside the dangers posed by ivory poachers, we have no doubt the elephants would do better if they were not captive. We also recognize that animal sanctuaries might well provide a better form of captivity, and that a better zoo exhibit might be constructed.”
Most important, since the Appellate Court upheld the lower court’s ruling, the following findings of fact in the lower court’s Statement of Decision are part of the public record and are a severe indictment of the elephant exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo. These facts, and the court’s conclusions based on the evidence presented at trial, include the following:
1. “All is not well at the Elephants of Asia exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo. Contrary to what the zoo’s representatives may have told the Los Angeles City Council in order to get construction of the $42 million exhibit approved and funded, the elephants are not healthy, happy, and thriving.” (p. 9)
2. “There is no real dispute that the elephant exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo is not as sufficiently large as an elephant sanctuary or the wild . . .” (p. 10)
3. The court found that the substrate of the exhibit is hard, not varied and soft, and it creates a risk of injury to the elephants’ joints, feet, and nails. Moreover, the bottom of all the water pools is concrete. (p. 11)
4. “The undisputed evidence, high school physics, and common sense, show that a six ton animals repeatedly walking over the same surface will compact the ground.” (p. 14)
5. “The problem is compounded by the fact that the available surface area for the elephants is much smaller than the total exhibit space because significant portions of the exhibit are closed to the elephants, either for certain periods of time, by gates used to keep Bily [sic] separate from Tina and Jewell [sic], or permanently, by electrically charged or ‘hot’ wires that keep the elephants away from areas of trees, brush, and grass within the exhibit.” (p. 15).
6. Zoo staff confirmed that electric wires, used to shock the elephants if they come too close, are all over the exhibit, and they are used to protect the trees, plants, and grasses from the elephants. There are no areas of grass in the exhibit that are not electrified, and the ramps leading in and out of the pools are also lined with electric wires. (p. 15). The court stated: “The Los Angeles Zoo elephant management system tempts the elephants with trees that elephants naturally use to rub against and knock down, but frustrates the elephants by keeping those tress in visual and sensory range but beyond access behind electrically charged wires.” (p. 16).
7. Due to the small space of enclosure, there is a high rate of contamination from urine and fecal matter which can cause foot infections. (p. 16)
8. “The evidence also shows that the quality of the elephant’s lives in the Los Angeles Zoo elephant exhibit is not good, and that this is having serious repercussions for their physical and emotional well-being.” (p. 17). The elephants exhibit stereotypic behavior (rocking, bobbing, swaying), and this also causes more stress on joints and feet. (p. 17). Testimony of Dr. Joyce Poole, pp. 17-19.
9. Billy is head-bobbing, swaying, and rocking for about 45% of the time that he is observed (he is not observed in the barn at night). (p. 22)
10. Foot Care for Elephants, testimony of Dr. Oosterhuis, pp. 24 – 27.
11. Billy is required to lay down and stand on his hind legs during training demonstrations for the public. (p. 28) Billy was trained by staff at the Los Angeles Zoo to lay down using block and tackle when he was young. Trainers for the Los Angeles Zoo also used a bull hook in the past. (pp. 36-37)
12. “It is undisputed that Bily [sic] lives and has lived for many years in isolation, separated at all times from other elephants, limited to hearing and smelling Tina and Jewel from afar, occasionally able to rub trunks with them through (presumably non-electrified) fencing.” (pp. 28-29)
13. The elephants’ choices are extremely limited: keeper’s control the gates and when they will be moved between enclosures, they can go in the water, but only if they walk on cement, and anything Billy chooses to do, he must do alone. (p. 29)
14. Court’s conclusion: “Thus, the Elephants of Asia exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo is not a happy place for elephants, nor is it for members of the public who go to the zoo and recognize that the elephants are neither thriving, happy, nor content. Captivity is a terrible existence for any intelligent, self-aware species, which the undisputed evidence shows elephants are. To believe otherwise, as some high-ranking zoo employees appear to believe, is delusional. And the quality of life that Bily [sic], Tina, and Jewel endure in their captivity is particularly poor.” (p. 30)
15. In addition, the Court stated: “The evidence at trial shows that life at the Los Angeles Zoo for Bily [sic], Tina, and Jewell [sic] is empty, purposeless, boring, and occasionally painful. 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.” (p. 45-46)