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EDITOR: Andrea Kirk
Michele Hunter
Mark Share
Matt Share
Josh Herz

By M.R. Hunter


It’s been over six months since Jewel and Tina, a pair of female elephants, moved into their Asian inspired digs at the L.A. Zoo at Griffith Park. Since their arrival from the San Diego Zoo last Fall, these pachyderms located in the new Elephants of Asia habitat. are the crown jewels of this modest zoo. The spectacular new exhibit has raised interest and visitors, allowing for additional funding in renovation, expansion and conversation efforts. And it seems to be paying off as locals rediscover the full magnitude of the zoo’s offerings, located in Griffith Park across from the Autry Museum.

It’s clear that these gentle giants are the heart of the zoo, and unlike other attractions such as the Bird Sanctuary, the Elephants of Asia are easy to find and can be reached on foot or by tram. Visitors will know they are being transported to the Far East as they meander down bamboo-lined walkways that wind around like a green-slated labyrinth, wander across sturdy wooden bridges and spot nine artistically rendered 5 ft. fiberglass elephants representing the countries featured in Elephants of Asia—Cambodia, China, India, and Thailand. From a distance, the red and gold roofed elephant habitat peeks out from the verdant atmosphere surrounding the Elephant Plaza.

Inspired by Thai architecture, the sharp lines and angled rooftop of the Elephant Barn is a marvel of design and state-of-the-art animal husbandry with 16,600 square feet devoted to its residents and allowing additional space to hold up to eleven adult elephants. Currently, the zoo holds three elephants with its longtime Malaysian resident, Billy the Bull, literally growing up before our eyes these last twenty-five years from a calf to an 11-ft. tall eating machine, weighing in around 13,000 lbs. Apparently, big is still beautiful, even in Los Angeles.

Upon entering the Elephant Plaza, a central meeting area to accommodate large groups and a gateway to the exhibit featuring several 6ft. copper silhouettes of elephants and further information about the countries of origin, guests will go up a sloped walkway to see the elephants bathe in the deep-water pool or eat a variety of vegetables during feeding time. The observatory area provides plenty of room for visitors to stand and watch the elephants who seem in no hurry to avoid the attention they receive. Somewhat elevated, the viewing area is surprisingly close to the animals, further protected by a steel fence, and it is truly an awesome sight to be standing several feet away from these breathtaking creatures as they lumber past.

But elephants aren’t the only ones stealing the show. Near the entrance of the zoo, the meerkats always draw a crowd of chuckling admirers. At any hour, these little fellas can entertain as they seemingly pose in the sun while turning their heads in unison. There is also Reggie the Alligator, the rescued reptile that created a furor of local interest and international support before being caught and transported safely to his new home complete with a waterfall.

The flamingoes might inspire some to start singing the Three’s Company theme song, but try to hold your breath as they reek like a can of tuna left out in the sun. Along the way, there was a pair of tigers that we found nervously pacing in their too-tiny habitat and the snow leopards must have been wearing their spring camouflage because we didn’t see any snow or leopard.

Kids will be tickled by the (fast)-moving tortoises with one enjoying his own sun lamp and the nearby hippos. One of the best exhibits was the family of giraffes who strutted around and watched us from afar under their thick, curly lashes. We also enjoyed the goats, especially the alpha male of the group with a pair of twisted horns that looked like something from Lord of the Rings—although he wasn’t a bit too friendly with his herd when he decided to eat. There are also some napping foxes, a dozing bear and if you’re as lucky as we were, a preening koala.

Some of the advantages of the L.A. Zoo are the free and ample parking and inside the wide, smoothly paved walkways for large groups, families and strollers. The main disadvantage is the lack of clear signage. While the Elephants of Asia are impossible to miss, some of other main attractions are difficult to find and take several backtracking attempts to locate them. The tram is a smart way to go for $4 a head if you arrive early, but if you come later in the day, it’s not worth the extra expense.

The zoo is a perfect way to spend a warm summer day and with the Elephants of Asia, you might need two days to see all the exhibits. Make Jewel and Tina feel welcome by herding the family over to see these pachyderms in their new home in L.A.

The Los Angeles Zoo
Griffith Park
5333 Zoo Drive
PH: 323-644-6400
More Asian Elephant Info
More Zoo Info

Look forward to Music at the Zoo during July.

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