Billy the elephant is ailing from 30 years at L.A. Zoo and should be moved, City Council panel says

An elephant with vegetation in its mouth
Billy the elephant as seen at the Los Angeles Zoo in 2019.
(Raul Roa / Los Angeles Times)

Billy, an Asian elephant who has lived at the Los Angeles Zoo for more than three decades, is suffering from his time in captivity and should be moved to an elephant sanctuary, an L.A. City Council committee recommends.

The Personnel, Audits, and Animal Welfare Committee on Tuesday approved a motion, proposed by Chairman Paul Koretz, that alleges several of Billy’s health issues can be linked to his zoo environment.

“For many years before the opening of the current Elephants of Asia exhibit he was placed alone in a small enclosure where he was kept on hard surfaces not considered beneficial for his feet and joints, and allegedly received a lack of sufficient exercise and stimulation,” the motion reads. “Billy long has been exhibiting abnormal (stereotypic) behavioral patterns many elephant experts characterize as indicating detrimental mental health impacts from that environment.”


Though Billy’s current 6.56-acre enclosure is a “better environment,” the motion says, a sanctuary would provide more space and natural conditions.

Among the “list of ways Billy’s long stay at the Zoo has been detrimental to his well-being,” Koretz noted, were numerous attempts at collecting genetic material for captive breeding of elephants.

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Dec. 1, 2022

Several speakers, including actors Lily Tomlin and Cher, voiced their support for moving Billy to a sanctuary during the committee meeting.

The Los Angeles Zoo said it “vehemently disagrees” with the motion’s characterization of the care and well-being of the facility’s Asian elephants.

“We have complete confidence in the knowledge, skills, and expertise of our entire animal care team, including those who care for our elephants,” the zoo said in an email to The Times.


Director Denise Verret said the zoo would support a study on relocating Billy. The committee’s recommendations call for the council to instruct the zoo to relocate the elephant.

This motion was not Koretz’s first attempt at moving Billy to a sanctuary.

In 2018, Koretz and Councilman Mitch O’Farrell put forth a motion to relocate Billy.

“Relocating him to a sanctuary is the solution and there are indications that philanthropy may be available to underwrite it, making it cost-effective for the zoo,” the motion read.

Koretz had also made a similar motion in 2009.

“The zoo has successfully, up to this point, waited me out,” Koretz said.