• U.S.

Animals: Starvation Behind Bars

2 minute read

Before the floods last month, Los Angeles’ non-profit-making Zoopark, owned by the California Zoological Society, had managed to keep itself going. But it had never built a reserve fund from admission charges, sale of animals, concessions and, most important, renting animal actors to films. Among Zoopark’s characters: Jackie, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s trademark lion; Nissa and Sweetheart, leopards which stalked through Bringing Up Baby with Katharine Hepburn; Anna May, veteran jungle-film elephant; Lady, the whooping crane which danced with Shirley Temple in Captain January.

As Los Angeles’ damaging flood receded and equally damaging Recession mounted, Zoopark found its cupboard bare. For three weeks, while drowned animals were buried and wrecked cages repaired, the park had no revenue. Animals were first cut to half rations, then to one third. Ribs began to show. Anna May sickened on mildewed hay. Babe the polar bear became too listless to sway. The Zoo’s gaunt camel was too weak to get up off its knees. Said Manager William J. Richards, who had worked a year without salary to make ends meet: “The flood was what broke the camel’s back. . . . We don’t need to balance our budget. We need a balance to budget.”

The Los Angeles Humane Department announced that unless help came soon the animals would be mercifully killed in lethal gas chambers. At that, money began to pour in. Actors Katharine Hepburn, Richard Dix, Stuart Erwin, oldtime silent-film Adventuress Kathlyn Williams, others donated checks from $10 to $100. Some 700 animals in the Barnes-Sells-Floto Circus were put on limited rations, the savings given Zoopark. The first of three Sunday benefit performances at the Zoo brought $1,000. Los Angeles schoolchildren scraped together $9 in pennies and dimes. At week’s end a new flood—of paying visitors —brought the cheering prospect that for the first time Zoopark would have not only horsemeat and hay for its animals but leftover gravy for its treasury.

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