The Los Angeles City Council today unanimously declared August 3 Elephant Awareness Day in the city to increase awareness of the often poor conditions that pachyderms experience in captivity.
The council also recognized Pacific Palisades resident Juliette West, a 16-year-old activist against elephant cruelty.
"Throughout history, elephants have played an important role in human economies, religion and culture, and they are beloved animals that attract crowds to zoos and circuses and many attractions," said Councilman Tony Cardenas, who sponsored the resolution to increase awareness about the often poor treatment of elephants in captivity.
"Many people are unaware, though, of the inhumane abuses that these creatures suffer when they are held in captivity," he said
Cardenas said elephants are often squeezed into "dangerously small spaces, causing them mental and physical harm" and rarely survive to their average expected life-span in the wild.
The resolution came a day after opening arguments in trial of a lawsuit alleging animal abuse by the city in the operation of its six-acre Elephants of Asia exhibit that opened in 2010 at the Los Angeles Zoo. Lawyers allege the three elephants that live in the exhibit do not have enough space for exercise. The elephants only have about two acres of the exhibit, with the rest of the space devoted to the public, according to the suit, which seeks the closure of the $42 million exhibit.
Attorneys for the city maintain the elephants are loved and well-cared for.
Cardenas said the decision to create Elephant Awareness Day is unlikely to affect the trial. He said he is still open to moving the elephants to a sanctuary if the circumstances are right.
West, who participated in the 2009 campaign to get an elephant out of the Los Angeles Zoo, told the council that the resolution provided a "powerful foundation" for raising elephant awareness.
"I think people should understand that any time you see any wild animal in an enclosure that they think is too small or somewhere that is so different from their natural habitat, they obviously don't belong, and I consider that abuse," West said.