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Elephants at LA Zoo Shocked and Bull-Hooked?

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Actor and animal activist Robert Culp is demanding an immediate closure of the elephant exhibit at the Los Angeles Zoo and that all work on the expansion of the elephant enclosure be halted. Billy, a 21-year-old Asian elephant, is now the zoo's only pachyderm, after the departure of Ruby last spring.

KNBC reports that Culp and real estate agent Aaron Leider have filed a lawsuit against the city and zoo director John Lewis for allegedly mistreating the elephants by withholding medical care, keeping them in an enclosure that is too small to adequately meet their needs and using bull hooks and electric shock to punish disobedient elephants.

While several zoo officials are rushing to point out that the zoo is in full compliance with federal and state regulations for pachyderm enclosures and general care, Gary Kuehn, a former staff veterinarian at the LA Zoo is speaking out about widespread abuse and tells KNBC that the zoo director was aware of the abuse:

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"They were abused by their handlers," Kuehn stated. "They were abused by the nature of their confinement in a very small environment. They were abused by the manner in which they were deprived of their families and normal social interaction; and they were mentally abused in a variety of ways." The alleged mistreatment of the zoo's elephants included the use of bull hooks, as well as electric shock treatments, when the animals disobeyed trainers, according to Kuehn.

"The zoo director was completely aware of and complicit in these actions," according to Kuehn.

These allegations, along with concerns about the zoo's new enclosure and the future breeding program, have long plagued the zoo and have been a source of ongoing tension between animal rights activists, former LA Zoo employees, enclosure developers & architects, and zoo officials. If the lawsuit's claims about the zoo's elephant mortality rate are correct - that 13 of the zoo's 31 elephants have died prematurely over the past three decades - this battle is a long way from being resolved.

A hearing has been set for February 6th.

Photo by my hovercraft is full of eels via Flickr