As Ruby the elephant heads off to retirement at a Northern California sanctuary, the debate continues over whether the Los Angeles Zoo should house elephants. In announcing Ruby’s retirement at a press conference not far from the zoo’s $39 million pachyderm enclosure that is under construction, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa reiterated his belief that elephants should live in sanctuaries, not zoos. “But it’s still a debate, and it’s a conversation we’ve got to have,” he said. “What we’ve done here is create a balance. This is going to be a six-acre exhibit for elephants that is among the finest in the nation.” Ruby’s retirement, he added, was recommended by the zoo leaders and is not a bow to pressure from animal activists. At the sanctuary, she will join eight elephants, both Africans and Asians, on the 125 fenced acres in a swath of rolling hills, native grasses and lakes. The L.A. Zoo will cover the $20,000 transportation costs, and Ruby’s keepers will travel with her and help her get acclimated to her new digs. “Elephants rely heavily on routine and familiar surroundings, so any change is stressful while they are exploring new areas and developing relationships with new elephants and keepers,” said PAWS founder Pat Derby. Animal-rights groups are raising an estimated $600,000 for her care at PAWS, and Bob Barker, host of the game show “The Price is Right,” has pledged up to $300,000. Catherine Doyle, with the Los Angeles Alliance for Elephants, led the campaign to move Ruby to a sanctuary. Doyle was pleased that Ruby would soon be in a place with vast open space and natural conditions closer to those of wild elephants. “She’ll be with other African elephants. There are lakes. She can push over trees if she wants to and just be an elephant,” she said. “It was the first time I’d seen an elephant run. It was the most beautiful thing. And I realized I’d never seen this at a zoo because there’s no space.” When Ruby leaves, the L.A. Zoo will have only one elephant, an Asian male named Billy. But officials expect to begin a breeding program and house up to five adult Asian elephants in the new exhibit. The Pachyderm Forest will be six acres total, with 3.7 acres for the elephants’ living space. Still, Doyle and other animal-rights activists said the space is too small. “It’s a terrible waste of taxpayer money. You’re putting this huge, obscene amount of money into one animal exhibit at the zoo. And it just is not going to be big enough to meet elephants’ needs.” But other elephant-exhibit critics have backed off. Last year, Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, introduced legislation that would have required five acres for up to three elephants – more room than planned for the zoo’s new exhibit. Under pressure from zoo groups and local leaders, Levine revised his bill to allow smaller enclosures if zookeepers walk the elephants at least five miles a day. Levine spoke in support of the new exhibit Monday, saying it would “provide Billy a fantastic new enclosure with all the enrichment activities he needs.” As Levine and the mayor spoke to a line of television cameras, Ruby wandered around her temporary home – a service yard where she has been kept off public display for the past two years. In 2003, Ruby made headlines when the L.A. Zoo loaned her to the zoo in Knoxville, Tenn., where she was supposed to be an “auntie” to a breeding herd. But animal activists said Ruby was locked in solitary confinement and tossed Krispy Kreme doughnuts by visitors. Zoo officials conceded that the once-timid elephant was becoming more aggressive. Facing a lawsuit by animal-rights activists, then-Mayor James Hahn ordered Ruby returned to L.A. [email protected] (213) 978-0390 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! “They’re a small minority when you compare the millions who come to our zoo and are very supportive,” Villaraigosa said. “This is a positive step in the right direction, and it’s one I feel very comfortable with.” After some four decades in the public eye and 20 at the L.A. Zoo, Ruby will be relocated to an elephant sanctuary in the Sierra foothills outside Sacramento. Taken as a baby from the African wild, shuttled from a safari to a circus and finally to the zoo, Ruby, 46, has spent much of her life in the glare of the public spotlight. For the past four years, she has been at the center of the debate over whether it’s humane to confine large animals to zoo enclosures. Ruby will be trucked to her new home at the Performance Animal Welfare Society, or PAWS, sanctuary as soon as a large-animal transportation specialist can be found.