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PACHYDERM PALS ELEPHANTS WON'T FORGET PAIN OF BREAKING UP, LAWSUIT SAYS.

Byline: Dana Bartholomew Staff Writer

A Los Angeles taxpayer joined with animal-rights groups Wednesday in seeking a court injunction to bar the Los Angeles Zoo from breaking up a longtime friendship between two female elephants.

Catherine Doyle, supported by the Humane Society of the United States and local animal-rights activists, filed the lawsuit in hopes of stopping Ruby, a 41-year-old African elephant, from being shipped to a zoo in Knoxville, Tenn.

Ruby has been the close companion of Gita, a 45-year-old Asian elephant, who is scheduled to remain behind.

``Those girls have been together 16 years. I call it a tragedy,'' said actress Gretchen Wyler about the plan to move Ruby.

``We care about the bonding of elephants and care of elephants,'' added Wyler, vice president of the Humane Society's Hollywood office and a member of the Los Angeles Zoo Animal Welfare Committee. ``I think Gita and Ruby will suffer emotionally and physically.''

Zoo officials said they had not seen the lawsuit and were proceeding with plans to move 9,000-pound Ruby.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, names the interim zoo director, Edward J. Maruska, and Los Angeles Zoo Commission President Susan Mazzarella as co-defendants.

Lora LaMarca, marketing director for the Los Angeles Zoo, said Ruby would be moving to a better home in Knoxville sometime before June 30. ``Our plans have not changed,'' she said. ``We're looking at species management and a better situation for Ruby.''

The complaint cites the testimony last March of three experts on elephant behavior who said separating the companions would cause them irreparable harm.

Ruby and Gita, as property of the zoo, are also property of the taxpayers, Doyle notes in the lawsuit. Ruby, an African elephant, is one of a threatened species; Gita's Asian species is considered endangered.

Gita, who will share a pen with an elephant with a history of violence toward other elephants, will suffer, according to the lawsuit.

``It's not acceptable,'' said Reseda-based attorney Yael Trock, who represents the plaintiffs. ``The whole crux of this case is that, as taxpayers and residents, we have the right to enjoy and benefit from our property.''

In addition to the Humane Society, the lawsuit is supported by Defense of Animals, Last Chance for Animals and Venice Animal Allies.

Zoo officials claim Ruby would be more at home with other African elephants in Tennessee, where she would serve as ``auntie'' for the breeding program.

``If the situation does not prove to be a positive one for Ruby,'' zoo officials said in a joint printed statement, ``the Los Angeles Zoo has the option to bring her back.''

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1) Ruby, left, and Gita, middle-age elephants and friends for 16 years, participate in their daily exercises at the Los Angeles Zoo.

(2) Ruby, an African elephant, runs through her morning exercise with keeper Scott Haist at the Los Angeles Zoo.

Gus Ruelas/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:May 15, 2003
Words:485
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