”Gitmo for Dumbo” Gets the Greenlight at LA Zoo

Despite celebrity protests, council panel lets pachyderm project move forward

The Los Angeles City Council won't interfere with "Gitmo for Dumbo."

Despite a fierce debate that has celebrities taking sides, a City Council panel decided last night to proceed with a proposed $40 million elephant enclosure at the Los Angeles Zoo.

Betty White wants to keep elephants in the zoo. Lily Tomlin passionately disagrees, declaring that "the word zoo is elephant-speak for Guantanamo."

Earlier in the day, celebrity animal activists Tomlin, Bob Barker, Robert Culp and Kathryn Joosten held a news conference requesting that the city scrap the project in favor of a larger 60-acre sanctuary where the elephants could roam freely outside the zoo.

"They are suffering and being tortured on a daily basis just by virtue of their confinement," Tomlin said.

The city panel met for about three hours and declined to take a vote that would have sent a proposal to halt the zoo project to the full council for consideration.

Councilman Tom LaBonge, who chairs the committee, said he favors the proposed 6-acre "Pachyderm Forest" enclosure.

"The work that is necessary to do this is taken very seriously," he said. "This new exhibit will make a difference in the quality of the housing for these elephants. The committee has recommended that the project continue."

Tomlin and Barker joined Councilman Tony Cardenas in opposing the enclosure. Cardenas said the exhibit is too small and instead wants funding for a larger sanctuary in the San Fernando Valley.

Celebrities who want to remove the elephants from the zoo said living there can harm their health and shorten their lives. They argue the zoo's lone elephant, Billy, is often seen bobbing his head — a behavior they say is caused by the psychological stress of living in confinement.

Zoo Director John Lewis has countered that Billy has been bobbing his head since he was young, and while it was not usual behavior for most elephants, it is normal for Billy.

White, who has volunteered at the zoo for 40 years, told the committee that Billy will like the new exhibit.

"Billy, I guarantee you, is not suffering, and I know Billy perhaps better than a lot of people in this room," White said. "He will be a lot happier with the new elephant exhibit that we have worked so hard for. ... I beg of you please let us open this thing."

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