A Los Angeles City Council committee wants an independent study of Billy the elephant, but Monday rejected a proposed set of qualifications and guidelines on the makeup of the panel that was presented to it by city staff.
The Arts, Entertainment, Parks and River Committee has been considering a motion to have Billy moved from the Los Angeles Zoo to a sanctuary over what City Councilman Paul Koretz calls an "unnatural" and "restricted" habitat for the animal, and in January directed city staff to report on the feasibility of forming a three-person independent working group of veterinarians not connected to the zoo to offer an opinion on Billy's health and habitat.
The committee rejected the report from the Office of the Chief Legislative Analyst and the Department of Recreation and Parks over concerns that the recommended guidelines would result in a panel too closely connected with zoos.
The report said the Office of the Chief Legislative Analyst consulted zoo experts in Los Angeles, San Diego and other locations to identify medical experts with the appropriate expertise, and it was determined that experts to be consulted should be licensed veterinarians certified by the American College of Zoological Medicine with at least five years off full-time experience in zoo medicine "specifically providing veterinarian care for the unique needs of Asian elephants."
Although the experts would not be from the Los Angeles Zoo, Koretz said the panel should be made of experts not closely associated with any zoo.
"It's clear to me that it defies the committee's stated instruction that the study of Billy's health and well-being be conducted by a panel of non-zoo affiliated veterinarians,'' said Koretz, who is not on the committee but is chair of the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee.
"As written it would assure that any veterinarians written assessment would surely be dominated by professionals whose livelihoods directly depend or have depended upon zoos, and additively whose ability to conduct the assessment of Billy likely would be heavily impacted by the zoo department's influence. That does not reflect independence."
Billy has lived at the zoo for most of his 30 years and has long been the subject of protests against his captivity, while the zoo has defended its care of Billy as one that exceeds the standards set out by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Because males and females living in captivity must be kept separate, none of the zoo's elephants can use the exhibit's entire space and Billy does not get the daily exercise he needs to be both physically and psychologically healthy, according to Koretz.
Councilman Mitch O'Farrell asked the Office of the Chief Legislative Analyst and Department of Recreation and Parks to come back to the committee with alternative options for the panel's makeup.
"The arc of Billy is well known and everyone cares about Billy and everyone wants Billy to be healthy and well. It's a matter of where essentially," O'Farrell said. "Even though I hate not moving this forward today so that we can just get on with it, I think there are enough questions that have been brought up today that we have to hold it. But just know that there is a sense of urgency."