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Despite Protests, L.A. Zoo Sends Elephant to Tennessee

Activists claimed that the move, after 16 years, would be harmful to highly social animal.

May 27, 2003|Carla Hall | Times Staff Writer

After months of public opposition and with a lawsuit pending, the Los Angeles Zoo moved its 42-year-old female African elephant, Ruby, to a Tennessee zoo, where she will join other African elephants.

Los Angeles Zoo officials have said they wanted to concentrate on exhibiting and possibly breeding Asian elephants, which are a different species from Africans.

However, animal rights activists, city residents and an elephant sanctuary director protested the move in letters, phone calls and a Zoo Commission hearing, saying the transfer of Ruby would sever her 16-year bond with the zoo's Asian female, 45-year-old Gita. Female elephants are highly social in the wild. The zoo has two other elephants, an African female, Tara, and an Asian bull, Billy.

The road trip started Sunday, two days after attorney Yael Trock filed for a temporary restraining order in federal court against the zoo's planned move. Trock said she expected a federal judge would make a ruling by today, the day Ruby is expected to arrive in Knoxville about 9 a.m.

"Like thieves in the middle of the night, they moved before a judge could make a decision," said Trock, who represents a Los Angeles resident who sued as a taxpayer, contending that the zoo, a city agency, was harming two of its elephants by planning the move.

"I think it's shameful," said Gretchen Wyler, vice president of the Hollywood office of the Humane Society of the U.S. "What I really find most arrogant is we are trying to go through the judicial process, and they have decided they are the judge."

Half a dozen keepers began the slow process of walking Ruby into a semitruck about 7 p.m. Sunday, not finishing until after 11, said principal animal keeper Jeff Briscoe, who spends much of his time caring for the elephants. The 9,500-pound animal was not anesthetized, but was chained inside the truck for the safety of the animal as well as the stability of the vehicle.

"We had everyone there she knows, constantly talking to her, constantly feeding her," Briscoe said. "She never at any time became aggressive or anything like that."

The moving company Planned Migration was using a truck bearing the markings of a ranch, not a zoo, and was trailed by two zookeepers and a veterinarian in another vehicle.

Briscoe said the move was done at night only to avoid hot weather and traffic.

But the move of Ruby away from Gita has become an emotional issue in the city, with a handful of protesters standing in front of the zoo throughout the weekend.

Zoo marketing director Lora LaMarca said it was decided not to announce the move because "We just could not run the risk of having media here or having people blocking the gate. That would certainly not be in Ruby's best interest."

Briscoe maintains that Ruby, an affectionate animal, will probably develop deeper bonds at Knoxville, where she will serve as a model of a nurturing female for the Knoxville Zoo, which is interested in breeding Africans.

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