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The Battle Over Billy

In an attempt to maintain some degree of reason in the highly polarized and publicized controversy over Billy, the lone bull elephant at LA Zoo, PAWS has refrained from making public statements about the elephant or the zoo. It is somewhat disconcerting to read misinformation about our sanctuary disseminated by zoo personnel and Jack Hanna.  

In our opinion, any zoo that experiences constant criticism about an exhibit, or the care of an animal, should at least consider the possibility of addressing the concerns of citizens whose taxes support the zoo.  

For the past 16 years, the elephant program at LA Zoo has elicited complaints from those who have a right to voice their opinion, and frequently we have been asked to participate in public hearings about issues at the zoo. We have tried to limit our involvement to constructive dialogue that will be beneficial to the animals. We have not created the controversy.  

The LA Zoo and the American Zoo Association (AZA) have had the opportunity to recognize and correct the problems at the zoo for several years.  

If providing state of the art, humane care for all the animals at the zoo is their goal, there is no controversy; but the intransigent attitude that zoos can do no wrong is inflammatory. Derogatory statements about sanctuaries do little to satisfy the legitimate financial considerations that are a critical component of city budgets, especially when necessary services are under funded.  

Sanctuaries provide care to animals when no other humane options are available. For obvious reasons, we do not display, collect, capture from the wild or intentionally breed the animals in our care. We receive no city, state or federal funding; we are supported by donors who agree with our philosophy and who support our programs. PAWS proudly displays our Charity Navigator four star rating which is based on our use of private donations.     

Captive elephants, like Billy, who are designated “ambassadors”, are captured from the wild, separated from their families with no consideration of their individuality outside of their service to the community, and their “representation of their wild cousins.”  

PAWS is dedicated to providing individual attention to each elephant who lives at the sanctuary with an experienced staff of veterinarians, behaviorists and keepers who work around the clock shifts. When an older elephant is in distress at midnight or two o’clock in the morning, the night keeper immediately alerts senior staff and veterinarians who are on call 24/7.  

We recognize the differences between zoos and sanctuaries, but we also promote and encourage an exchange of information between the two entities. PAWS is not anti-zoo, we support the programs of many AZA accredited facilities and maintain cooperative relationships with many prominent directors, curators and keepers from several major AZA facilities. We have collaborated with Detroit, Anchorage, San Francisco and Los Angeles Zoo in the transfer of elephants from their facilities to ARK 2000.

Ruby, an LA Zoo elephant, is enjoying an enriched retirement, sharing a large habitat at ARK 2000 with three other African elephants after a previous attempt to relocate her to another zoo failed.  

This year is the 25th Anniversary of PAWS. We have studied the conditions in which captive elephants are kept for most of those 25 years, and we are committed to improving the lives of all captive elephants, particularly bull elephants.

We realize that no captive situation can ever replace wild habitat and the strong social bonds of elephant families. Attempts to breed elephants in captivity have failed because no facility has the funding or the ability to replicate the complex social order that exists among elephants in the wild and the space necessary to meet their needs.  

Construction is underway on our Bull Elephant Mountain where our young bull, Nicholas, and his companion, Gypsy, now reside, sharing a new 8000 square foot barn.

Nicholas is NOT castrated, and he and Gypsy, an older female, have been companions for several years. They arrived at PAWS as a bonded pair, and we did not consider separating them unless it was necessary to prevent injury.

This week, Nicholas and Gypsy both exhibited behaviors that indicated Nicholas was coming into his first musth, and they were separated. Because we anticipated this problem and had 24/7 staff, veterinarians and a good barn design, we were able to make changes safely and efficiently.  

Other bull elephants who come to ARK 2000 will have the opportunity to socialize with our older female elephants, most of whom are well past breeding age. There are social opportunities for bull elephants at our sanctuary which do not involve breeding.  

PAWS is opposed to the practice of breeding elephants in captivity, separating the babies from their mothers at an early age and shipping them off to another facility to live with strange, unrelated individuals.  

We do not presume to comment on Billy’s future. We are sincere in our desire to provide the best quality of life that captivity offers to elephants like Ruby and Billy.

For further information about PAWS and ARK 2000, please contact us directly.

View the most recent video footage of the
elephants at PAWS ARK 2000 sanctuary:


Performing Animal Welfare Society
PO Box 849, Galt, CA 95632

(209) 745-2606 office/shelter
(209) 745-1809 fax

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