Moby & Ricky Gervais Join Launch of 2021 Worst Zoos for Elephants List

Moby & Ricky Gervais Join Launch of 2021 Worst Zoos for Elephants List

In Defense of Animals’ 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America was first published in 2004. Every year since, we have released a list of zoos that have earned a spot based on various factors such as lack of space, solitary elephants, health issues, and premature deaths, and this year was no exception. 

The 10 Worst Zoos list serves to raise awareness about the plight of elephants in zoos where very limited space, unsuitably cold climates, and unnatural conditions condemn Earth’s largest land mammals to lifetimes of deprivation, disease, and early death. The 10 Worst Zoos list has been featured by hundreds of news outlets over the years including the Daily Mail, Esquire, and the New York Times. This year, our list was featured in dozens of reports including Yahoo! News, Fox 10,, The Sacramento Bee, CTV News, Calgary Herald, WKRC Local 12, KRQE News 13, and 7 KOAT.

This year, we sought and were given celebrity support for the list for the first time with endorsements from Ricky Gervais and Moby, who are calling for the elephants at the zoos on the list to be released to accredited sanctuaries.


Our 10 Worst Zoos list for 2021 exposes suffering and markers of captivity-caused brain damage at zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA), which are considered to be the best. The 2021 list draws attention to shocking neuroscientific research led by Bob Jacobs, Ph.D., a professor at Colorado College, which concludes that living in small, artificial, and barren captive environments physically damages elephants’ brains. 

“Zoo captivity damages elephant brains. There’s a vast gap between the rich environment nature provides for elephants’ thoughtful brains versus zoo captivity, which is impoverished and robs elephants of their social, mental, and neural needs. Decades of neuroscience research shows that an impoverished brain is a damaged brain. Whether it is the 10 Worst Zoos or the ten best, all zoos are detrimental to elephants’ brains and cause physical and mental suffering,” 

Bob Jacobs, Ph.D. professor at Colorado College

The #1 worst zoo of 2021 is Edmonton Valley Zoo in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, which has held the female Asian elephant Lucy in solitary confinement for the past 15 years. 

Both the AZA and CAZA require groups of at least three elephants. But instead of moving Lucy, the Edmonton Valley Zoo was granted a variance by CAZA, letting it get away with keeping her in isolation. Lucy is also believed to be suffering from numerous serious health issues, but the zoo has continued to refuse to allow an independent veterinarian to examine her.

All zoos included in 2021’s 10 Worst Zoos list besides The Preserve are accredited by the AZA or CAZA, yet fail to provide “the highest quality of elephant management and care.” Elephants in all zoos are suffering variously from isolation, inadequate space, premature deaths, and captivity-caused illnesses like zoochosis which is caused by stress and indicates the elephants are bored and frustrated in their impoverished environment. The disease has never been observed in wild elephants. 

10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in 2021:

  1. Edmonton Valley Zoo, Edmonton, Alberta
  2. ABQ BioPark, Albuquerque, N.M.
  3. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Cincinnati, Ohio
  4. Phoenix Zoo, Phoenix, Ariz.
  5. Bronx Zoo, New York City
  6. Oklahoma City Zoo, Oklahoma City, Okla.
  7. Toledo Zoo & Aquarium, Toledo, Ohio
  8. Los Angeles Zoo, Los Angeles, Calif.
  9. Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Fresno, Calif.
  10. Audubon Zoo, New Orleans, La.

Hall of Shame
The Preserve, Fredericksburg, Texas

Dishonorable Mention 
Oregon Zoo, Portland, Ore.

Find out more about how zoos are causing elephants to suffer and how you can help by checking out the list of 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in 2021.   

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