In Defense of Animals Releases 2009 'Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants' List

Jan 12, 2010, 11:01 ET from In Defense of Animals

SAN RAFAEL, Calif., Jan. 12 /PRNewswire/ -- The 2009 list of the Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants, released today by In Defense of Animals (IDA), exposes the hidden suffering of elephants in zoos. In its sixth year, the list highlights how confinement of these giants to tiny enclosures wreaks havoc on their physical and psychological health and leads to premature death for many. For the first time, the list includes a Canadian entry, the Toronto Zoo.

India took the lead internationally last year when it stunned the zoo world by banning elephants in all zoos. Authorities cited problems common to most zoos, such as lack of space, poor breeding, and the absence of any positive effect on elephant conservation.

In contrast to India's progressive leadership, North American zoos remain mired in the past, denying the devastating impacts of zoo captivity on elephants, sinking hundreds of millions of dollars into woefully inadequate exhibit renovations, and clinging to archaic and cruel circus-style training methods. The expert testimony in federal court of Mike Keele, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' elephant group head, on behalf of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and its brutal elephant handling practices is a mark of just how out of step with progressive elephant care and advocacy most zoos have become.

"The Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants list shines a spotlight on the terrible suffering of elephants in zoos," said IDA president Elliot Katz, DVM. "It's time for North American zoos to join India in recognizing that Earth's largest land mammals don't belong in urban zoos which lack the space and complex natural conditions elephants need. Zoos must follow the lead of the two U.S. sanctuaries that provide elephants with vast acreage in natural habitats and a far superior quality of life."

IDA's 2009 Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants List:

  1. San Antonio Zoo (Texas) – Two's really a crowd at this zoo. While keeping Lucky in solitary confinement for more than two years is incredibly cruel, acquiring another elephant for a still-inadequate "herd" of two is even worse. The San Antonio Zoo should retire Lucky – who has spent the last 47 years of her life on display – to a spacious, natural-habitat sanctuary that can far better meet her need for space and companionship.
  2. Toronto Zoo (Canada) – Deadliest zoo for elephants. Elephants are dying at an unprecedented rate at the Toronto Zoo: four elephants in less than four years – two in 2009. None lived beyond age 40, though elephants have a natural life span of 60-70 years. No amount of care or costly renovations can compensate for the inadequate conditions and frigid temperatures that force the elephants indoors into tiny spaces. The zoo's atrocious record will only end when the zoo shuts down its elephant display.
  3. Honolulu Zoo (Hawaii) – No paradise for pachyderms. Everything about the zoo's antiquated elephant exhibit is wrong: it crams two of the world's largest land mammals into a mere 6,000 square feet; lack of space for healthy movement is causing recurrent and painful foot disorders; keepers use inhumane circus-style training and bullhooks; and it's taken more than 10 years to renovate the exhibit – which still is not done and would provide not even an acre of space.
  4. Reid Park Zoo (Arizona) – Time to ride off into the sunset. Several years ago the zoo refused to send Connie and Shaba to a sanctuary at no cost to taxpayers, promising a new exhibit. Lack of funds has indefinitely postponed renovation of the tiny exhibit where the elephants suffer painful, captivity-caused foot abscesses and Connie neurotically sways in distress. Lack of space, the misery of foot disease, and failure to provide better conditions call for bringing an end to the zoo's elephant exhibit.
  5. Houston Zoo (Texas) – You call this a conservation message? With Asian elephants struggling to survive in the wild, the zoo should be sending a serious message to the public about respect for this highly endangered species. Instead, in December the zoo chose cheap exploitation, putting a holiday wreath atop the elephant Methai's head and offering $40 photo sittings with her. The public wouldn't be quite so amused if they knew that Methai is subjected to cruel, circus-style training and controlled with a sharp steel bullhook to ensure she "behaves."
  6. Topeka Zoo (Kansas) – Time for a fresh start. Following the expose of horrific animal deaths and the zoo director's resignation, the spotlight is now on Tembo and Sunda, who suffer chronic health problems, including serious foot disease. Sunda shows "deterioration of digits" (bones) in one front foot, a potentially fatal condition caused by lack of space and standing on hard surfaces. Redemption is possible if the zoo retires Tembo and Sunda to a sanctuary now and shuts down the display.
  7. Oregon Zoo – Birds of a Feather Stick Together. Experts agree that elephants suffer in circuses, where they are cruelly controlled with a bullhook, a steel-tipped device similar to a fireplace poker used to prod, jab and beat elephants into compliance. But that didn't stop deputy zoo director Mike Keele from testifying as an expert witness for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in a federal lawsuit over the circus' abusive practices. Maybe that's because the zoo uses the same method with its elephants. New director Kim Smith can end this disgraceful treatment of the elephants.
  8. Bronx Zoo (New York) – Never put off until tomorrow what you should do today. Four years ago, the zoo announced plans to close its elephant exhibit when one or more of the inhabitants dies. Maxine, Patty and Happy have spent more than 30 years on display in conditions that fail to meet their needs, and spend most of the long New York winters confined indoors. Considering the zoo's budget ills, it would be practical as well as humane to retire these elephants to a sanctuary now.
  9. Toledo Zoo (Ohio) – The lonely life of bull elephants. "Baby" Louie, the Toledo Zoo's star attraction, is about to get hit with the reality of a bull's life in a zoo: a solitary life in a tiny exhibit, separated from other elephants except for breeding. Young males need social interaction to ensure healthy social development, yet more than half of zoos with males hold just one; most don't hold bulls at all. Still, zoos continue to breed even though it is creating a growing surplus of males.
  10. Brookfield Zoo (Illinois) – The Replaceable Elephant. After the deaths of two elephants last year, the zoo again is again searching for a replacement elephant. But is a new cage-mate really what's best for sole survivor Joyce, who has known nothing but trauma and upheaval in her life? She deserves to live in a large social group, form lasting bonds with elephants whom she chooses, and enjoy year-round outdoor access in a spacious natural environment – something she can't get at this zoo.

Worst Zoos for Elephants – Hall of Shame

IDA's announces two new inductees to the Worst Zoos for Elephants Hall of Shame – a special category for repeat offenders that have made little or no progress improving conditions for elephants.

Los Angeles Zoo (California) The zoo's history of 14 elephant deaths didn't stop it from misleading city officials into supporting construction of a controversial elephant display. The zoo covered up information and distorted the truth in pursuit of the $42 million display that still will be too small for elephants. The zoo's lone elephant Billy continues to suffer in cruel solitary confinement.

Woodland Park Zoo (Washington) A deadly breeding program, intense confinement and a host of captivity-induced ailments put this Seattle zoo – where the elephants are confined in a tiny, outdated barn for 17 hours a day, 7 days a week, 7 months a year – in IDA's Hall of Shame.

Please visit for more information, extended entry descriptions, photos and video.

In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization located in San Rafael, Calif. dedicated to protecting animals' rights, welfare, and habitat through education, outreach, and our hands-on rescue facilities in Mumbai, India, Cameroon, Africa, and rural Mississippi.

Contact: Catherine Doyle, 323-301-5730

SOURCE In Defense of Animals