After a few days on display in a downtown warehouse, an elaborately painted live elephant was washed down Sunday by order of the city’s Department of Animal Services.
Tai, a 38-year-old female Indian elephant, had been painted trunk to tail as part of a downtown art exhibit. The installation consisted of a living room scene complete with furniture, painted walls and a chandelier, with Tai -- painted in the same red and gold pattern as the walls -- serving as a physical embodiment of the metaphorical phrase “the elephant in the room.”
The exhibit of odd pieces by outlandish British artist Banksy opened Friday to the public and was scheduled to close Sunday evening. The show, titled “Barely Legal,” attracted crowds of visitors but angered animal rights activists and Ed Boks, the general manager of the city’s Animal Services Department -- even though the agency had granted the permits for the elephant’s appearance. (Boks said earlier he would reevaluate the permit process to avoid “this kind of frivolous abuse of animals.”)
On Sunday morning, Boks ordered that “the elephant be completely scrubbed down to bare skin and that a child-safe face paint be used.” “The paint they had been using, although nontoxic, according to government regulations was unsafe and even illegal to use the way they had been using it,” he said.
Boks said he issued written orders about the paint after consulting animal rights activist Les Schobert and elephant sanctuary founder Pat Derby, and conferring with the city attorney’s office. He then told the owners of Have Trunk Will Travel, the Perris-based company that provided the elephant, that the paint would have to be removed.
It was left up to the artist, who maintains an air of mystery by never appearing at his exhibits and rarely granting face-to-face interviews, to find the correct children’s face paint for the animal. As of early Sunday afternoon, the elephant was simply placed unpainted in the living room exhibit.
“Well, it’s better than being painted,” said Bill Dyer from In Defense of Animals, who objected to the use of the animal in the exhibit. Dyer, speaking from the exhibit on his cellphone, added, “There’s a huge crowd here and it’s very hot and I feel very sorry for the elephant.”
Animal control officers on the scene and the elephant’s handlers monitored Tai’s welfare during the exhibit. The handlers said Tai was regularly fed and given water, taken on bathroom breaks and driven from the warehouse each night back to her home on a ranch in Perris.