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Activists Urge LA AG to Investigate Griffith Park Pony Rides for Animal Cruelty

ANIMAL WATCH - In Defense of Animals and Los Angeles Alliance for Animals urged Attorney General Rob Bonta to investigate Stephen Weeks of Griffith Park Pony Rides and Petting Zoo for animal cruelty and Los Angeles Recreation and Parks to transition to a non-animal model of family entertainment during a press conference on Tuesday, January 3. Animal activists held protest signs and chanted as Founder and President of Los Angeles Alliance for Animals Zohra Fahim and Campaigns Director at In Defense of Animals Lisa Levinson fielded questions from the media.  

In Defense of Animals and Los Angeles Alliance for Animals claimed a decisive victory for animals when Griffith Park Pony Rides and Petting Zoo was forced to stop operating in the park by the City of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks. The department announced its decision not to renew the contract for 2023 on Dec. 3. As of Dec. 22, the business was closed to the public marking the end of 74 years of animal suffering. 

“Ending this pony ride and petting zoo contract was a huge milestone for treating animals humanely in Los Angeles and beyond. Now we ask the Attorney General to address animal cruelty concerns raised by over 1,000 In Defense of Animals supporters, actress Richa Moorjani, and Los Angeles Alliance for Animals,” said Lisa Levinson of In Defense of Animals.  

Los Angeles Alliance for Animals has documented the concession without water for almost seven hours in 90-degree heat, algae in the horses water, overworked geriatric ponies, geriatric ponies working in 100-degree temperatures, and the deaths of four geriatric ponies.  

“We are urging Attorney General Rob Bonta to investigate Griffith Park Pony Rides and Petting Zoo,” said Fahim of Los Angeles Alliance for Animals. “It is not enough to shut the concession down. Stephen Weeks needs to be thoroughly investigated for animal cruelty.” 

In Defense of Animals partnered with the Los Angeles Alliance for Animals to expose footage showing how senior ponies were overworked without rest, did not receive water for long periods, and were denied protection against hot temperatures. Workers prodded ponies for several hours to provide rides to children when they refused to move any further. Other animals were documented suffering, including a sheep in distress and rabbits sitting in the hot sun with no shade or water in the petting zoo over the summer. 

Public pressure prompted the City of Los Angeles to assign a third-party equine veterinarian to report on the wellbeing of the ponies and horses at Griffith Park Pony Rides. The veterinarian reported ponies with untreated saddle sores, hoof issues, lameness, and dental problems. Based on dental examinations, the vet found many ponies to be in their senior years, between 20 and 30 years old — an age when they should be enjoying retirement. 

Over the past year, In Defense of Animals has encouraged supporters to reach out to Los Angeles Recreation and Park Commissioners, City Council, and Mayor Eric Garcetti to take action on these animal welfare issues at Griffith Park Pony Rides and Petting Zoo and eliminate pony ride concession contracts in the city, so this type of neglect cannot happen elsewhere.  

“We're at a time right now that we need to not have pony rides because it's teaching children the wrong lesson that these ponies are carnival equipment, and they're not,” Fahim told NBC4 News. “He has pushed geriatric ponies in Los Angeles heat waves up to 100 degrees. We have ponies not having water, not just once, but multiple times over a year I have documented.” 

In Defense of Animals supporters sent over 1,000 emails urging decision-makers to replace this concession, and calling for all of the animals at Griffith Park Pony Rides and Petting Zoo to retire to a sanctuary. On Dec. 1, Katie Nolan, General Campaigner for In Defense of Animals spoke at the Los Angeles City Council meeting to oppose the continued suffering of ponies at Griffith Park.  

In November, actress Richa Moorjani, well-known for her portrayal of Kamala in the Netflix comedy-drama series Never Have I Ever, joined In Defense of Animals in urging the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti to eliminate pony ride concession contracts in the city. Mistreatment at Griffith Park Pony Rides and Petting Zoo prompted the Los Angeles star to call on city leaders to send all the animals to a sanctuary and replace the park with a non-animal model.  

“Elderly ponies and horses are being abused and neglected for entertainment, right in the heart of Los Angeles, it is beyond disheartening,” Moorjani said at the time. “Horses are highly intelligent, emotional and sensitive beings that deserve to live and roam freely, not exploited for profit in the name of ‘fun.’ The conditions these animals are forced to work in are disturbing and unacceptable, and it is heartbreaking to see their very evident suffering. I urge you to please join me and stand with In Defense of Animals — demand the Griffith Park Pony Rides and Petting Zoo be replaced with non-animal ‘entertainment,’ and send all of the animals to a sanctuary where they can be given a chance to live happily without suffering.” 

In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization based in Marin County, California, with over 250,000 supporters and a 39-year history of fighting for animals, people, and the environment through education and campaigns, as well as its hands-on rescue facilities in India, South Korea, and rural Mississippi. www.idausa.org 

Los Angeles Alliance for Animals is one of the only equine protection groups in Los Angeles dedicated to eliminating horse and pony abuse. Our groundbreaking work has brought exposure to the unjust and unfair treatment of the geriatric ponies at Griffith Park and Pony Ride and Petting Zoo, and the ongoing suffering they endure at the hands of the City of Los Angeles.  

(Lisa Levinson is the Director of In Defense of Animals’ Sustainable Activism Campaign, offering emotional and spiritual tools for animal activists. Lisa promotes activist self-care through IDA’s Animal Activist Support Line and monthly online events.)