Rocker and LA Zoo board member Slash defends new elephant habitat

Billy the elephant is introduced during opening night of The Asian Elephant Habitat at The Los Angeles Zoo on Dec. 15, 2010.
Billy the elephant is introduced during opening night of The Asian Elephant Habitat at The Los Angeles Zoo on Dec. 15, 2010. Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

The impressive and also controversial $42 million Elephants of Asia exhibit at the LA Zoo opened to the public Thursday. The exhibit has been hotly contested by animal rights activists, but Wednesday night the zoo hosted an opening party with “200 VIP guests, some B-listers and a performance by Slash,” reports the LA Weekly.

Yes, Slash, of Guns N’ Roses fame.

Slash says his early childhood in London revolved around trips to the museum and zoo, where he began his longtime love of reptiles. (You’ll remember his side project is called Slash’s Snakepit.)

“So when I moved to Los Angles in 1970, then the LA Zoo became the spot,” he tells KPCC’s Hettie Lynne Hurtes. “So I’ve been hanging out at the zoo ever since I was 5-years-old”

He’s now a LA Zoo board member and an adamant supporter of the 6-acre Elephants of Asia exhibit, which has been at the center of an ongoing legal dispute. The new elephant habitat is home to longtime zoo resident Billy, a male Asian elephant, who last month started sharing his digs with females Jewel and Tina, on loan from the San Diego Zoo. Animal rights activists say it's too small and too expensive.

Slash disagrees.

“I just jumped right in support of Billy and the zoo and the whole development that was happening,” he says.

“Most of these individuals who are being vocal about it have never even met Billy or been to the zoo. It was silly and I didn’t think they had a leg to stand on so I wasn’t surprised that we won.” (Not exactly. A judge last week ruled the habitat could open, reports the Associated Press, but also said a lawsuit, originally filed in 2007 by the late actor Robert Culp, could continue.)

Slash says the exhibit — which features watering holes, actives meant to keep the elephants engaged and observation decks — was in response to the zoo’s struggle to provide proper housing for a young male elephant, and make space to introduce more elephants for possible mating.

“The way that the elephant exhibit was in the past was sort of stereotypical of an elephant exhibit in an old-fashioned sort of zoo setting," he says. "Nothing necessarily surprisingly wrong with it but nothing surprisingly great about it. It was just a big flat space with a tree in it.”

The elephant habitat isn’t the only “radical change” going on at the zoo, notes Slash. There’s also a new reptile house in the works, which is “right up my alley,” he says.

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