Los Angeles Zoo Faces Lawsuit for Elephant Abuse, Neglect

Actor Robert Culp and another man have filed suit against the Los Angeles Zoo and the city, aiming to stop construction of a $40 million elephant exhibit and keep the zoo from having elephants on the grounds.

The suit filed Thursday also alleges mistreatment of elephants going back decades, saying that it has caused both direct and indirect damage to the animals.

Over the past 33 years, 13 of the zoo's 31 elephants have died prematurely, according to the lawsuit by Culp and real estate agent Aaron Leider.

Among the alleged instances of abuse: a 1984 incident in which an elephant was hit with a bull hook and one in 1986 in which an elephant was electrically shocked by handlers.

"We want them to close the existing exhibits, acquire no more elephants and spend the money more wisely," said attorney David Casselman.

Animal welfare activists have long argued that elephants in zoos don't have enough space or soft ground.

Jason Jacobs, director of public relations for the zoo, said the new exhibit would give the animals a wide variety of surfaces to walk on. He argued that the general treatment of the animals had greatly changed over the last 20 years.

The City Council approved the construction project last year. The exhibit was scheduled to open in late 2009. The zoo has only one elephant, a bull named Billy.

In June 2006, zoo elephant Gita died. According to a necropsy, the animal died of cardiac failure associated with blood clots blocking the right chamber and major vessels of her heart. An investigation determined that zoo officials were slow to react after the elephant was reported in a downed position.