In Defense of Animals recently released its 16th annual “10 Worst Zoos for Elephants” list, which raises awareness about the often-fatal harms committed against elephants in North American zoos during the preceding year.
“The zoos featured on this year’s list demonstrate how public display facilities can cause elephant suffering, regardless of space, ‘enrichment,’ or financial investment,” explained Marilyn Kroplick M.D., the organization’s president.
In compiling the list, investigators observe elephants engaging in behaviors that are indicative of chronic stress and suffering, suggesting that artificial environments inhibit pachyderms from satisfying their social, physical, and psychological needs.
Here’s the complete list:
10. Rosamond Gifford Zoo – Syracuse, NY
One elephant, Mali, gave birth to her calf, Ajay, at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in January 2019. Unfortunately, based on the zoo’s past actions, it seems likely that Mali and Ajay will be separated. In the early 2000s, Mali gave birth to another calf named Chuck, and the zoo broke them up three years later.
Elephants are extremely social and empathetic creatures, and a bond between a mother and baby is strong. Removing a mother’s child can lead to devastating social and health issues for both parties.
9. San Diego Zoo Global – San Diego, CA
San Diego Zoo Global operates and is affiliated with various zoos, including the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, Ariz., which has been featured on this list in the past.
Last year, the company separated four males who had formed a strong “brotherhood” bond and punished an elephant for never fathering offspring by relocating him.
While male elephants in the wild typically leave their herds during their teenage years, this is a gradual process, not a sudden breaking-up of families like at San Diego Zoo Global.
8. Utah’s Hogle Zoo – Salt Lake City, Utah
Christie, an African elephant cruelly ripped away from her mother in the wild at a young age, has a 10-year-old calf, Zuri. Since their companion’s death in 2015, the duo have remained unaccompanied in their exhibit at Utah’s Hogle Zoo.
In this case, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is failing to enforce its required minimum of three compatible elephants per enclosure.
7. Edmonton Valley Zoo – Alberta, Canada
For years, the Edmonton Valley Zoo has refused to re-home Lucy, an ailing Asian elephant living in solitary confinement, to a sanctuary. Lucy endures harsh Canadian winters, which stoop to a bone-chilling range of between 14 to -31 degrees Fahrenheit. These below-freezing temperatures and the zoo’s frequent use of bullhooks to control Lucy only add to her ever-diminishing health.
6. Natural Bridge Zoo – Natural Bridge, VA
At the Natural Bridge Zoo, Asha, an African elephant, recently received a new name, Beautiful. Her reality at the zoo, however, stands in stark contrast to her new moniker.
For nearly 20 years, the Natural Bridge Zoo has kept her in solitary confinement. She spends summers forced to provide rides to thousands of people at the mercy of a bullhook. During the winter, she’s relegated to the confines of a cramped, bare enclosure.
5. Louisville Zoo – Louisville, KY
Mikki, a 35-year-old African elephant, recently gave birth to a calf, Fitz, after seven years of failed artificial insemination attempts. Her other calf, Scotty, died in 2010 from colic at three years old.
In 2016, Mikki was subjected to six traumatic artificial insemination procedures, which often entail chaining a female elephant’s legs down and forcibly invading her 13-foot-long reproductive tract, presumably against her will.
Fitz and Mikki, who are both African elephants, share an enclosure with an Asian elephant, Punch. This unnatural social arrangement is unhealthy for everyone involved, especially Fitz, who is a baby and should be raised according to a vital, species-appropriate kinship structure.
4. Oregon Zoo – Portland, OR
This is the Oregon Zoo’s tenth appearance on the “Worst Zoos for Elephants” list.
FOIA documents show that a 26-year-old Asian elephant named Chendra was pregnant during the summer, but that she was later diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB) and miscarried. The zoo forced Chendra to breed despite having been exposed to other elephants with TB in the past, and her dangerous pregnancy probably resulted from a desire for increased revenues and zoo attendance.
3. Bronx Zoo – Bronx, NY
In 2006, the Bronx Zoo promised to end its elephant program, but 12 years later, it continues to house elephants, including a 48-year-old Asian elephant named Maxine who recently passed away due to a progressive illness.
The Bronx Zoo is a veteran on the “Worst Zoos for Elephants” list. Last year, it ranked number one due to its mistreatment of Happy, an elephant who suffered in isolation with Maxine for 13 years.
Much like with Utah’s Hogle Zoo, the AZA is failing to enforce its three-elephant minimum per enclosure policy at the Bronx Zoo.
2. Zoo Miami – Miami, FL
Four elephants have died at Zoo Miami since 2012, earning the establishment one of the worst track records in North America for elephant deaths. Additionally, the zoo struggles with aggressive behaviors between its elephant residents, which tend to lead to life-threatening injuries.
An African elephant named Cita passed away in February 2019 following an encounter with another elephant, Peggy. Cita suffered for at least 14 hours before she finally succumbed to her injuries. It was the fourth time Peggy had attacked Cita, according to records obtained by In Defense of Animals, making this an easily preventable death.
1. Pittsburgh Zoo – Pittsburgh, PA
The Pittsburgh Zoo tops the list, courtesy of its “unbroken pattern of negligence” toward its pachyderm residents. The zoo’s sheltering is inadequate, and investigations carried out by In Defense of Animals show that the zoo separated three closely-bonded elephants who had spent around 25 years together.
As recently as December of last year, investigators witnessed distressed elephants pacing around their small enclosure for hours on end. These elephants are accompanied by dogs, despite a previous USDA citation regarding the propensity for the canines to act aggressively toward the elephants and cause them “undue stress.”
Like elephants at other cold-weather zoos, those at the Pittsburgh Zoo endure winters on concrete floors, which are known to cause painful leg and foot disease.
Last year, the zoo separated an African elephant, Thandi, from her beloved companions, sending her to Ontario solely for breeding purposes.
These incidents show only some of the Pittsburgh Zoo’s laundry list of offenses against elephants.
Please, visit In Defense of Animals’ website for more information.