Campaigns - Los Angeles Zoo


On January 29, 2009, the Los Angeles City Council chose politics over facts and science when they voted to continue construction of the $42 million elephant exhibit at L.A. Zoo. This despite letters, statements, and direct appeals by leading elephant authorities, conservationists, zoo professionals, scientists and veterinarians from around the globe attesting to the fact that the L.A. Zoo just could not provide enough space for elephants.

Lacking any science to show that elephants¹ health and well-being would be improved in a 3.5-acre space subdivided into four yards, the Zoo resorted to a deceptive campaign filled with misinformation and twisted facts. They conducted misleading telephone "push polls," took out full-page newspaper ads slamming activists and sound science, attacked the sanctuaries with outright lies and presented only "experts" who received their paychecks from the zoo industry and/or display of captive animals.

The zoo industry has built its case for elephant captivity on a very shaky foundation based on lies, distortions and shocking dismissal of scientific evidence. With the team of experts and opinion leaders that we have assembled, and the accumulating science documenting the devastating effects of zoo conditions on elephants, the tipping point on this issue is near.


IDA is happy to report that a 2nd District Court of Appeals decision will send a taxpayer lawsuit against the Los Angeles Zoo and its controversial $42 million elephant exhibit back to court for a full trial. The court reversed in full the Superior Court's dismissal of a suit filed in 2007 by lawyer David Casselman on behalf of actor Robert Culp and real estate agent Aaron Leider to stop the display of elephants at the L.A. Zoo.

The suit alleges ongoing illegal, damaging and wasteful actions by the zoo, including construction of an exhibit that will not provide the large spaces elephants need for health and well-being, perpetuating captivity-caused foot and joint diseases that kill elephants prematurely, and abusive handling practices.

The decision importantly found that the "physical characteristics" of an elephant's enclosure may constitute "abusive behavior" under California state law.

Since resuming construction following the L.A. City Council vote in January, the zoo has twice returned to City Council for approval of funds to cover cost overruns in excess of $1 million, though the exhibit is still in the early stages of construction.

IDA has great hope that the elephants will triumph in court. A trial date has not yet been set.


When IDA said the fight was not over at L.A. Zoo - we meant it! On August 5, 2009, IDA filed a complaint with the Los Angeles Civil Grand Jury seeking investigation of the Los Angeles Zoo for engaging in deception, distortion and cover-ups in order to secure an L.A. City Council vote to keep elephants at the zoo and spend $42 million on a new exhibit.

The complaint follows IDA's exposure in July 2009 of the L.A. Zoo's attempt to hide the fact it had paid a paltry USDA penalty of $3,281 for failure to provide adequate veterinary care to Gita, as she lay dying overnight in June 2006. (The fine also included the death of a chimpanzee in July 2006, making the amount even more shockingly scant.)

The cover up is just the latest example of the L.A.Zoo's pattern of practice of misleading city officials, distorting information, tampering with government records.

At the time of her death, the Zoo failed to report that Gita had been observed collapsed on the ground overnight and that zoo personnel took no action to help the suffering elephant, who died in the morning. A tip from a zoo insider helped expose the L.A. Zoo's negligence that caused Gita to suffer an agonizing death.

According to an L.A. Times report, the Zoo paid the fine in January, 2008, yet kept this information hidden from the public and the Los Angeles City Council, which spent months that year deliberating whether the Zoo should continue to display elephants. This piece of critical information may have changed the outcome of the council's vote.

IDA had submitted repeated requests for information about the USDA's investigation into Gita's death, both to the L.A. Zoo and the USDA. Neither public entity provided any information regarding the penalty, as both are required to do by law.

In response to IDA's most recent expose of the Zoo, L.A. City Councilmember Tony Cardenas presented a motion before city council that would force the zoo to account for this outrageous cover-up and direct the City Attorney to investigate and report back on any possible criminal and/or civil violations by the L.A. Zoo of the California Public Records Act and the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

What the L.A. Zoo received is nothing more than a slap on the wrist, despite the fact that Gita, an endangered Asian elephant, suffered for hours in terrible pain without. IDA is hoping that the Los Angeles Grand Jury will hold the zoo responsible for its irresponsible and reprehensible conduct, which has seriously violated the public trust and caused the suffering elephants and other animals.

What You Can Do:

If you do not live in the City of Los Angeles, please contact Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa only.

If you live in the City of Los Angeles, please contact Mayor Villaraigosa and your city council member.

What to Say:

  • Express your outrage at yet another L.A. Zoo cover-up in the death of Gita and at the Zoo's negligence in failing to provide adequate veterinary care. Gita is the fourteenth elephant to die at L.A. Zoo.
  • Urge city council members to take action to revisit the issue of stopping the $42 million elephant exhibit and sending Billy to a sanctuary, based on the fact they were denied important information about the zoo's failure to provide adequate veterinary care for Gita. Urge the mayor to take the lead in reopening this issue.
  • Urge the mayor and city council to hold the zoo accountable for withholding critical information from city council and for its noncompliance with the California Public Records Act.

To locate your city council member, please visit


Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
Los Angeles City Hall
200 N. Spring St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Phone: 213-978-0600
Fax: 213-978-0750

District 1 - Ed Reyes
Phone: 213-473-7001
Fax: 213-485-8907

District 2 - Open (election for this seat to come)
Phone: 213-473-7002

District 3 - Dennis P. Zine
Phone: 213-473-7003

District 4 - Tom LaBonge
Phone: 213-473-7004
Fax: 213-624-7810

Phone: 213-473-7005
Fax: 213-978-2250

District 6 - Tony Cardenas
Phone: 213-473-7006
Fax: 213-847-0549

District 7 - Richard Alarcon
Phone: 213-473-7007
Fax: 213-847-0707
Email: (use contact form at

District 8 - Bernard Parks
Phone: 213-473-7008
Fax: 213-485-7683

District 9 - Jan Perry
Phone: 213-473-7009
Fax: 213-473-5946

District 10 - Herb J. Wesson, Jr.
Phone: 213-473-7010
Fax: 213-485-9829

District 11 - Bill Rosendahl
Phone: 213-473-7011
Fax: 213-473-6926

District 12 - Greig Smith
Phone: 213-473-7012
Fax: 213-473-6925

District 13 - Eric Garcetti
Phone: 213-473-7013
Fax: 213-613-0819

District 14 - Jose Huizar
Phone: 213-473-7014
Fax: 213-847-0680

District 15 - Janice Hahn
Phone: 213-473-7015
Fax: 213-626-5431

The sad saga of L.A. Zoo’s elephants

Watch a video on Billy and the L.A. Zoo.  For more information on how you can help Billy, please see below.

The most recent deaths at L.A. Zoo include 39-year-old Tara, an African elephant who died in 2004. Keepers found her down on the ground one morning and unable to get up due to severe arthritis. She died shortly thereafter.

Similarly, keepers found 48-year-old Gita down one morning, and she died later that day. She, too, had suffered from advanced arthritis, as revealed in her necropsy (her body was riddled with the disease). IDA exposed the terrible failure of Zoo personnel to take action after observing Gita down early during the night prior to her death. It was later determined that Gita may have needlessly and painfully suffered for as long as 12 to 17 hours before getting veterinary attention. She had also suffered chronic foot infections throughout her life, which eventually led to the partial amputation of one toe in September 2005.


After years of intense campaigning by IDA, Ruby made an historic journey in May 2006 from her tiny, off-exhibit enclosure at L.A. Zoo, where she was held alone, to her new home at the PAWS Sanctuary in Northern California. Ruby is thriving on more than 70 acres of rolling, grassy hills and happily shares the company of other African elephants!