Hannibal, the 5-ton elephant that needed a tow truck to get him upright after a recent grooming session at the Los Angeles Zoo, became the center of some controversy Thursday when animal rights advocates protested his sale to a Mexican zoo.
Zoo officials said they are selling the 16-year-old African elephant for $1 to the Zocango Zoo in Toluca, Mexico, where the bull elephant will breed with other African elephants. The Los Angeles Zoo has a breeding program for Asian elephants, they said. But members of Friends of Animals, an international animal protection organization, say they worry that Hannibal, the zoo's last African elephant, may not get proper treatment in Mexico and have urged city officials to halt the sale.
"Anybody who has been to any kind of animal facility in Mexico can comprehend my outrage," said Lisa Landres , a former elephant keeper and wildlife specialist with the animal rights group.
Landres said the Los Angeles Zoo has a responsibility to keep Hannibal even though he does not fit into the zoo's plans.
"It's like suddenly he has no value, so let's dump him, let's send him down to Mexico," she said.
Interim Zoo Director Jerry Greenwalt defended the sale, saying the elephant will have larger accommodations and will be with other African elephants at the Mexican zoo.
He said the charges about poor treatment in Mexican zoos "infuriates the hell out of me. . . . Those kind of statements are uncalled for."
Greenwalt said the Los Angeles Zoo has had a long relationship with the Taluca zoo, and he believes zoo officials there will take good care of the elephant. "We will not have Hannibal go someplace that we are not comfortable with," he said.
Landres said she called the office of Los Angeles Councilman Joel Wach to pressure the zoo to halt the sale. She said her group plans to contact other high-ranking city officials.
A spokesman for the councilman said the office is investigating the group's concerns.
Hannibal was topic of concern among zoo officials Wednesday after he was tranquilized to get his toenails trimmed and for an examination, but failed to respond to an antidote. Zoo officials had to use a heavy utility tow truck from the Fire Department to help lift the animal onto his feet.
Greenwalt said Hannibal is "still a little groggy" but is expected to recover fully.
The elephant, which was caught in the wild, has been at the zoo for 11 years, he said.
Because African elephants are more common, Greenwalt said he has found that many zoos around the country are also trying to sell African elephants.
"We contacted zoo after zoo to no avail," Greenwalt said. "They said 'If you find a market for your elephant we'll try to sell ours too.' "
But Landres said the zoo is treating Hannibal like a "disposable commodity."
Jerye Mooney, Los Angeles coordinator for Fund for Animals, a national animal rights organization, said she also believes the zoo has a responsibility to keep Hannibal.
"I think that it is an outrage that they would dispose of an excess animal in that manner," she said.