All photos by Michael Buckner/WireImage
It was a magical night under the stars at the Los Angeles Zoo on Wednesday for the star-studded celebration to launch the new Asian elephant habitat.
Rockers such as host committee member Slash and Gavin Rossdale (pictured), along with their little kids, attended the L.A. Zoo”™s splendid and elegant party to watch these special Zoo heavyweights encounter their new habitat. Tina, Jewel and Billy are the three Asian elephants who now reside in this gorgeous, brand-new, state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly, seven-acre habitat at the L.A. Zoo. Also in attendance for the launch were L.A. Council Members, local officials, L.A. Zoo Trustees, GLAZA (the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association) Board of Directors patrons and several hundred excited after-school participants from L.A.”™s inner-city high schools.
Finally, after several years of planning and some opposition from animal welfare activists, the $42-million, 6-acre exhibit and premiere environment for Asian elephants is now open to the public.
The Elephants of Asia at the L.A. Zoo enclosure is a jewel in the L.A. Zoo”™s crown, providing both a sanctuary for its new residents Tina, Jewel and Billy – who have transitioned beautifully – as well as a destination for the over 1.5 million people who visit the L.A. Zoo each year. Â Much like an elephant paradise, the spectacular enclosure was modeled on the natural habitat from their native regions in Cambodia, China, India and Thailand.Â It features bathing pools, sandy hills, varied topography, enrichment opportunities and high-tech barn capable of caring for elephants of all ages. It also takes visitors on a journey of discovery about Asian elephants and their place in the history and culture of Thailand, India, China and Cambodia, as well as the challenges they face in these regions.
As guests made their way to the pachyderm enclosure, we were guided by nine mini elephant statues, each about five feet tall, that had been delicately hand-painted and decorated by several artists. These gorgeous, one-of-a-kind statues will eventually be auctioned off to raise funds for the L.A. Zoo.
As we got closer to the elephant habitat, the sweet strains of sitar, flute music, clempung (a large plucked floor zither) and tabla drums filled the air as ethnic musicians and exquisitely costumed dancers performed all night long. The area around the elephant habitat was beautifully decorated with live plants, flowers, candles and twinkling pea lights festooning the bamboo walls.
Another visual delight was the lovely and ephemeral sand painting that had been created on one section of the curving path of the habitat.
Food stations were set up all around so that patrons could easily sample fragrant Indian curries, including a stunning Lamb Korma, as well as delicate Thai curries and Chinese salads.
The Elephants of Asia environment is truly state-of-the-art facility of 6 acres dedicated to the health and welfare of its residents with bathing pools, sandy hills, varied topography and a nearly 17,0000 sq ft high-tech barn with enough bedrooms to house eleven elephants.Â This space will encourage their protection, educate the public about their country of origin and place in history as well as the challenges they face in their country.Â It will also offer millions of visitors annually the opportunity to experience these majestic animals and showcase the excellent care they receive at the L.A. Zoo.
These Asian elephants are endangered species that have been hunted illegally to near extinction for their coveted ivory tusks.Â In fact, Tina their newest elephant, was rescued at one point from an abusive owner. She was in poor health but is now flourishing.Â With only 35,000 Asian elephants left in the world the Elephants of Asia habitat will increase the safety, care, appreciation, amazement and wonder for these massive mammals.
“Seeing the elephants explore and engage their new habitat is an amazing and rewarding sight,” said Zoo Director John Lewis. “All of the hard work and dedication on the part of Zoo staff and supporters is paying off and the Los Angeles Zoo is excited to share this incredible exhibit and these stunning animals with Angelenos.”
Just before the short speeches from Council Member Tom LaBonge and John Lewis, a beautiful and smiling Indian dancer appeared, wearing an electric blue and gold sari with bells at her wrists and ankles. She quietly blessed the ground and then performed two marvelous dances, the second of which was dedicated to Ganesha, one of the best-known Hindu deities and most widely worshiped in the Hindu pantheon. Although he is known by many other attributes, Ganesha”™s elephant head makes him easy to identify and Ganesha is widely revered as the “˜remover of obstacles”™.
Laura Wasserman, a trustee of the Zoo”™s fundraising arm, GLAZA, who raised close to $20 million of the hefty $42-million needed to complete the habitat, hobbled over on crutches before giving her speech.Â Â Speeches were given in front of the Wasserman Family Thai Pavilion, whichÂ she and her husband, Casey, and their family foundation had helped to build. This pavilion features signage that describes the ongoing conservation efforts to preserve elephants in the wild.
Immediately following the Indian dancer”™s second, vibrant performance, the gate was opened for Billy to enter the habitat. He had been bobbing his head up and down in an excited fashion before the speeches. As he entered through the automatic gate, Billy showed he had a wicked sense of humor by pretending to turn around and exit almost immediately, much to everyone”™s laughing dismay. [you can watch this brief video here.] But Billy graced us all with his presence, coming right down to the large fence to dine on tree branches with juicy leaves as excited children and patrons made friends with the gentle giant.
It was an elegant and thoroughly delightful event.
Report by Pauline Adamek