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2004 Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants


1. Anchorage Zoo—Alaska’s arctic climate, a mammoth problem. The frigid zoo ignores the social and physical needs of Maggie, their only elephant. Forced indoors for months by sub-zero temperatures, Maggie stands on hard concrete surfaces in her own feces and urine with no ability to roam—a lethal combination that creates chronic captivity-induced foot infections similar to those that killed her former companion, Annabelle.

2. Waco’s Cameron Park Zoo—Is this what they mean by Lone Star? Even though companionship is essential to elephants’ psychological health, this Texas zoo displays and keeps a single elephant. Not only is this unnatural, it sends the wrong educational message about elephants to zoo visitors. In fact, wild elephants are known to have the most extensive social network of any animal yet studied, outside of man. Even the thickest-skinned elephant is unable to endure this isolation.

3. Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo—Last Stop for Elderly Elephants. When it comes to housing old elephants, this small urban zoo offers their inadequate facility as a dumping ground. In 2003, three elephants that lived for decades in sunny San Diego found themselves warehoused throughout Chicago’s long winter in a tiny indoor enclosure. Lack of space exacerbates serious foot and joint disorders in elephants. Such conditions have already resulted in the death of one. Life at this zoo is no walk in the park for elephants.

4. Los Angeles Zoo—Breaking-up is hard to do. Two elephants, friends for nearly two decades, were separated by the zoo when 44-year-old Ruby moved from L.A. to the Knoxville Zoo in Tennessee, only to return to L.A. 18 months later. Instead of a warm homecoming, L.A. Zoo has announced plans to shuffle Ruby off to yet another zoo. Elephants are highly complex, social animals capable of forming lifelong bonds, yet they are often shipped from zoo to zoo with no regard for social ties.

5. Lee Richardson Zoo—Even too small for Toto. For years, the Garden City, Kansas zoo has kept two elephants in a barn built for one. In human proportions, it is the size of a jail cell. In stark contrast, elephants in the wild can walk up to fifty miles a day. Yet zoos consider outdoor enclosures of 1,800 square feet—roughly six parking spaces—acceptable for an elephant. Only a wicked witch could approve of such cramped conditions.

6. Six Flags Marine World-Vallejo—Dying to entertain. Since 1996, more elephants have died prematurely at this Northern California theme park than in any other facility. The average lifespan for elephants in U.S. zoos is just 34 years old – about half of their natural lifespan. Is the grim-reaper the mascot at this theme park?

7. Houston Zoo—Breeding ground for misery. Although five elephants from this zoo have already died from a herpes virus, the zoo recklessly continues to breed elephants, potentially condemning them to an excruciating death. Even worse, Houston ships their elephant offspring to other zoos, possibly spreading the deadly, painful disease to even more animals.

8. El Paso Zoo—Deep in the “heart” of Texas. Two elephants still remain under the “care” of the keeper caught beating Sissy on videotape. Even though they cause pain and injury, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA), a zoo industry trade group, still permits the use of bullhooks, electric prods and other coercive means to control the gentle giants. Sissy won’t forget the beatings she suffered at this zoo.

9.Washington, D.C.’s National Zoo— A “Capital” offense. Veterinarians at National Zoo said they were “too busy” to administer a federally required tuberculosis test to Nancy, an elephant later euthanized and found to be carrying the disease, which can be transmitted to humans. Despite evidence that problems leading to the deaths of 23 animals in six years were not fully resolved, the AZA rushed to re-accredit the zoo in 2004.

10. Philadelphia Zoo—Nation’s oldest zoo is on its last legs. Elephants at the antiquated pachyderm house must endure long winters behind bars in a small Depression-era facility with concrete floors and peeling paint. Such a pathetic setting should have been relegated to the pages of history long ago.