An unnamed woman, described by police as mentally ill, climbed through two protective steel barriers and across an open ditch into the Elephants of Asia enclosure at the Los Angeles Zoo on Tuesday afternoon, December 27, 2011 as reported on Thursday, December 29, 2011 by the Daily Mail, the San Jose Mercury News, the Los Angeles Times, KTLA-TV, and other media sources.
Shocked zoo visitors and city employees urged the intruder to leave the area. She ignored their pleas, and instead approached the two massive female cows, Jewel and Tina, who each weigh about 8,000 pounds, and have been living in the facility since November 2010, arriving there through a donation from the San Diego Zoo.
The woman remained in the six acre elephant enclosure for at least five minutes, getting close enough to touch both of the wild born animals, estimated at between 37 to 47-years-old, and having been paired together for about 30 years, before finally retreating to the visitors viewing area.
Police took her into custody, and transported the woman to a local hospital for medical evaluation and possible treatment.
According to zoo visitor Branden Adams who recorded the incident with his cell phone, as seen in the attached video clip and slide show accompanying this report, the woman entered the restricted area saying “I’m going to go pet the elephants now.”
Wildlife experts said that the situation could have ended badly if the animals had been agitated or felt threatened.
The Los Angeles Zoo website states that the two pachyderm have a close relationship, illustrated by the squeaks and toots they make when they meet, even if they have only been apart for a few minutes. They eat approximately 330 pounds of food each day, feeding up to 16 hours. Their diet consists of grasses, shrubs, fruits, vegetables, bran and bark.
Apparently the pair were retired circus performers accustomed to being near large crowds before they were originally brought to the San Diego Zoo by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and later transferred to the Los Angeles Zoo.
Asian elephants are distributed throughout Southeast Asia, from Sri Lanka, India, and Sumatra. They are the world’s largest living land mammals, reported in scientific journals to be highly intelligent and self-aware, with a maximum recorded life span of 86 years.
The species is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), with their population declining by at least 50% over the last 60 to 75 years.
Zoo officials regard last Tuesday’s intrusion as an anomaly, and have no plans to enhance their security, saying “We feel our barriers are adequate. This is the first incident of this sort since Elephants of Asia opened.”
Often the most unpredictable species seen at zoos are among the millions of people who visit them each year.
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