Sunday, January 10, 2016

Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles

Through facebook, I have joined forces with an incredible woman, Marcy Winograd. She is also a public school teacher in Los Angeles, cares passionately about animal issues, and has valuable experience with the political process. We have formed a lobbying group: Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles ( Our objective is to close down the Elephants of Asia exhibit, release Billy, Tina, and Jewel to sanctuary, and stop the captive elephant breeding program in Los Angeles through the political process. Our first meeting is Saturday, January 16 at 11:00 am. We have our meeting posted online:

Following is a sample letter to Los Angeles City Council Members:

January 10, 2016

Dear Councilmember ____________, Los Angeles City Council, _________ District:

I hope I can count on you to join us – Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles -- to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, namely the three captive elephants at the Los Angeles Zoo. Please endorse the attached Resolution to End Captive Elephant Breeding Program at the Los Angeles Zoo and Transfer its Captive Elephants to a Sanctuary. This is an issue that will not go away, and Los Angeles has the incredible opportunity to take a leadership role in the Sanctuary Movement that is gaining momentum around the world. 

My name is Kiersten Cluster, and I am a resident, taxpayer, and public special education teacher in the City of Los Angeles. I started a petition on asking the Los Angeles Zoo to close the Elephants of Asia Exhibit and release the elephants to sanctuary. Already over 4,500 people have signed. 

My fellow public school teacher, Marcy Winograd, and I have started a lobbying group, Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles. Our objectives are to close down the elephant exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo, end the captive elephant breeding program, and free the elephants held captive under circumstances contrary to science, ethics, and common human decency. 

The Los Angeles Zoo would like for the public to believe that its redesigned Elephants of Asia Exhibit, opened in 2010, meets the needs of its current inhabitants. However, while the environment may look pretty to human visitors, the scene quickly deteriorates when viewed from the perspective of the captive elephants.

On one side of the enclosure are two female Asian elephants, Tina and Jewel, both former victims of the circus industry in their early fifties.  On the other side, separated from Tina and Jewel, is Billy, a lone, male Asian elephant. Billy was born in 1985 to a wild elephant herd in Malaysia, and was acquired by the Los Angeles Zoo in 1989, where he has since lived in isolation. He occupies one lonely acre of space where he spends most of his time in a corner, swaying and bobbing his head for hours on end, surrounded by metal bars and the constant clicking of electric wires. In light of the current, prolific research on elephants, the Elephants of Asia Exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo does not provide an appropriate environment to meet the most basic needs for space, exercise, socialization, and cognitive stimulation required by its residents.

The lack of living space creates terrible physical and mental stress. As the largest land animal on Earth, elephants require vast, open spaces. It is one of the most important requirements for the physical and psychological well-being of elephants. In the wild, Billy, Tina, and Jewel would cover hundreds, perhaps thousands of acres, and naturally engage in foraging, dusting, mud wallowing, swimming, resting, and socializing with other elephants. Within the constricted zoo exhibit, they live a monotonous and lonely existence without any choices. In fact, they are still forced to perform “tricks” for the crowd at daily “training demonstrations”.

Frankly, as a teacher, I do not believe that children can learn anything useful about wild animals when they are viewed in a captive situation. Although seeing animals in a zoo may delight children, it is basing something that is wonderful on something that is a horror. It teaches children to be indifferent to the suffering of others, that it is “okay” morally to benefit at the cost of someone's terror, loss, and destruction. Children have a natural interest in and affinity for animals. However, they learn from the adult models around them. If the adults in their life display apathetic, uncaring attitudes towards animals, or even outright violence, that is what our children will learn. On the other hand, if we are able to shift our thinking and model respect for all living things, children will follow our example.

Finally, there is no possible gain from a captive elephant breeding program. Forced mating of animals does not help animals in the wild. Instead, it increases zoo profits by luring the public to see baby animals. A better use of our resources would be finding ways to protect wild animals in their home environments where they can live and raise families in a natural, dignified manner. Both male and female elephants are highly infertile in zoos (along with high infant mortality and infanticide, the latter unheard of in the wild), which is not surprising given the terrible stress and devastating conditions they must endure on a daily basis. In fact, despite their efforts to stimulate Billy, the zoo has been unsuccessful in collecting any semen samples from him in order to artificially inseminate a female at another zoo. Even if captive breeding is successful, it produces physically and psychologically unhealthy elephants destined for a life of captivity and exploitation.

There is no justification for the captivity of this highly complex, intelligent, and social species, especially since research shows that elephants experience the same psychological reactions to captivity and isolation as humans.  How long will we stand by and allow Billy, Tina, and Jewel to be exploited for entertainment and profit? They have spent their lives in the service of humans. It is time to say enough. 

If you have any questions, or need further information, please do not hesitate to contact me at: and/or 310-560-1868. Thank you for your consideration and civic leadership. I look forward to hearing from you on this matter. 

Kiersten Cluster

 “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated …” – Mahatma Ghandi

Following is the resolution for the Democratic Party of Los Angeles, written by Marcy Winograd:

Resolution to End Captive Elephant Breeding Program at the Los Angeles Zoo and Transfer its Captive Elephants to a Sanctuary.

WHEREAS, many zoos in the United States and Europe have closed their elephant exhibits, citing lack of space, inadequate social groupings, chronic health problems, anxiety and agitation, and premature death suffered by captive zoo elephants, while acknowledging the Scientific American Board of Editors’ conclusion that keeping elephants – intelligent and emotionally complex animals– confined in zoos is wrong and must stop …

WHEREAS, elephants in the wild typically roam 50 miles each day, even when food is abundant, and depend on vast amounts of space to maintain their physical wellbeing and strong social bonds with extended family networks, but at the Los Angeles Zoo, three elephants – Billy, Tina, and Jewel – are confined to only a few acres while Billy, the male elephant, continues to live over a quarter of a century in virtual isolation …

WHEREAS, captive elephant breeding programs are largely unsuccessful, resulting in a high mortality rate for baby elephants while further disrupting elephant family bonds with the removal of mothers or babies from their herd, and while advancing a false narrative that such programs ensure the survival of elephants in their natural habitat …

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the City of Los Angeles will end its captive elephant breeding program, transfer Billy, Tina, and Jewel, at the earliest possible opportunity, to an appropriate sanctuary with at least 1,000 acres, while closing the LA Zoo’s elephant exhibit forever, and …

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED the Los Angeles Democratic Party shall distribute copies of this resolution to each member of the Los Angeles City Council, the Mayor of Los Angeles, the Director of the Los Angeles Zoo, each member of the Los Angeles Zoo Commission and each supervisor on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

Written by Marcy Winograd, member, West LA Democratic Club 



  1. Dear Marcy and Kiersten,

    I have been following Billy for years and was very active in the last campaign to have him retired to a sanctuary when the law suit on his behalf was filed. I volunteered with In Defense of Animals in demonstrations at the zoo as well as worked independently to free Billy. I have since moved from the city of Los Angeles and have health issues that prevent me from working 'in the field' but I have visited the new elephant exhibit at the L.A. Zoo and I was appalled by it. I have a petition presently circulating based on this experience that has almost 40,000 signatures in only a week. People are more savvy and are fed up with elephants being confined in zoos.

    I did a lot of research and found that you two are the most active in continuing to try to help Billy. I was very pleased regarding your updates and progress. It is moving to say the least, that there are people who care as much as you do about Billy and the other elephants confined in zoos. I also saw that you have a petition presently circulating as well. I have read most of your articles and visited your blog.

    What I am thinking about is if you are interested I would love to offer my petition for you to deliver in person as a proxy for me to the Los Angeles Council along with your own petition, when it is time. I think that with our combined efforts, this will have a tremendous impact. I do plan on keeping my petition going a while longer and the goal right now is 100,000, which it is reaching rapidly. I am even hopeful that there will be more. People have had it!

    I would also like to ask if you have a current video of Billy displaying his stress-related behaviors that can be linked up to both of our petitions on youtube and otherwise? I would also like to ask permission to link your blog, site and articles to my petition in an update, if this is okay? As I said, I was very pleased to find that you are following up on Billy and have current updates.

    In solidarity for the elephants,
    Karen Eisenlord

    1. Dear Karen - thank you so much for reaching out to us! And YES we would love to join forces with you. Your petition is fantastic - how did you get so many signatures? And yes, please link our website and facebook page. I have not used this blog in a long time, I started this as a way to stay organized, and I now I mainly use the website for everything. If you think it is useful, you can link it, but I won't be updating it. Everything in the blog is on the website. Also, we are speaking at the zoo commission meeting (for the third time) this Tuesday, July 26. I would love to let them know about your petition, along with ours, just so they know we have a lot of support in the community, if that is ok with you? I would also like to post your petition on our website and facebook page, also if ok with you? Finally, would you like to be added to our Elephant Guardians email list? I want to give you my personal email, but don't want to post it here. Do you use facebook? Try to friend me and I will try to friend you. Again, thank you so much for everything you have done for Billy. love, Kiersten