Cher and Lily Tomlin Calling for the Release of L.A. Zoo Elephant to Sanctuary: 'He Is in Pain'

Cher, Lily Tomlin and the Voice for the Animals Foundation want the elephant to be moved to a California sanctuary where he would have more space

Billy, an elephant living at the Los Angeles Zoo, has a star-studded support group.

On August 12’s World Elephant Day, both Cher and Lily Tomlin, in partnership with Voice for the Animals Foundation, are calling for Billy to be released from the zoo, so he can be moved to sanctuary operated by the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).

Here, Cher and Tomlin are certain Billy will have a better life than what he is offered at the L.A. Zoo.

“He is in pain both physically and psychologically. He spends 80% of his time rocking back and forth. This behavior is called stereotypic behavior and is widely known to be a sign of distress. It is never seen in wild elephants,” Cher, 73, told PEOPLE. “Billy is standing on hard packed dirt in a small, sterile environment. In the wild, he would be walking hundreds of miles a day on soft earth. In the zoo, Billy can’t choose what he eats at a Sanctuary he will have choices.”

According to the singer, at the PAWS sanctuary, which is ready to accept Billy upon his release, the elephant “would have 15 acres to roam in the sanctuary” instead of the 3.6 acres he has at the zoo.

“He would be able to swim, dust himself as elephants like to do, eat whatever he wants from the lush vegetation at the sanctuary,” she added.

Tomlin, 79, says she and the founder of Voice For the Animals Foundation, Melya Kaplan, have been working for ten years to make this move happen, ever since PAWS agreed to welcome Billy into their family.

For Tomlin, her dedication to Billy’s future comes from her belief in the “importance of caring for those younger and weaker” — even when those weaker than you happen to be a fully-grown elephant.

Tomlin and Cher are also teaming up for the 3rd Animal “Wait Wait … Don’t Kill Me!” Comedy Gala on September 7. The night of animal-themed stand-up comedy will feature a video message from Cher and a performance from Tomlin. All of the proceeds from the gala will benefit the Voice for the Animals Foundation. Animal lovers can learn more about the event at the foundation’s website.

The stars, encourage those who want to learn more about Billy to visit the Voice for the Animals Foundation website, where supporters can sign a petition calling for Billy’s release.

In response to the claims from Tomlin, Cher and the Voice for the Animals Foundation about Billy, the Los Angeles Zoo provided the following statement to PEOPLE:

The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) has not reached out to the Zoo directly to offer Billy a home, and notwithstanding, the Zoo has no intentions of sending Billy to a sanctuary.

World Elephant Day is important because it educates people on elephants and what they can do to help them in the wild. Asian elephants are in trouble. Scientists estimate there are less than 50,000 Asian elephants left on the planet. It’s important to have elephants in Zoos to help create understanding, empathy, and solutions so these animals will be around for future generations to cherish. Sending Billy to a sanctuary won’t solve the larger problem, nor will it benefit Billy.

Much has been said about the Zoo’s elephant program, including persistent misinformation and inaccuracies as it specifically relates to our male Asian elephant, Billy. It is important that accurate and factual information about our program be shared so that the public understands why the L.A. Zoo is an excellent home for these elephants. The L.A. Zoo offers its elephants a state-of-the-art habitat exceeding standards set by the California Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Association of Zoo’s and Aquariums. All of the Zoo’s elephants enjoy a healthy diet, clever enrichment opportunities, and individual attention and care. In addition, the Zoo has an outstanding team of elephant care specialists, a state-of-the-art hospital facility, and an expert team of veterinarians that provide excellent care for all of our elephants.

The L.A. Zoo remains committed to our outstanding elephant management program and to the conservation of these highly endangered animals. While a small group of activists don’t believe in our mission, nearly two million people visit annually and the Zoo would like to thank them for their continued support as we fight to save animals from extinction.

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