MEDIA RELEASE: 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants List Exposes Unique Suffering of Captive Bull Elephants

MEDIA RELEASE: 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants List Exposes Unique Suffering of Captive Bull Elephants

Harley Quinn Smith Backs In Defense of Animals’ Bid to End Elephant Captivity & Free Billy from #1 Worst Zoo, Los Angeles Zoo

SAN RAFAEL, Calif. (Jan. 10, 2024) — In Defense of Animals’ respected annual list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America has exposed an array of male, or bull, elephant abuses in U.S. zoos. Los Angeles Zoo has been shamed as #1 on the 10 Worst Zoos list for causing decades of chronic stress to Billy, its lone Asian bull elephant, that has sapped his body and spirit. Actor and musician Harley Quinn Smith is backing In Defense of Animals’ call for zoos to release all elephants to reputable sanctuaries.


In Defense of Animals’ List of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in 2023:

  1. Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens, Los Angeles, California
  2. Houston Zoo, Houston, Texas
  3. ABQ BioPark Zoo, Albuquerque, New Mexico
  4. Denver Zoo, Denver, Colorado
  5. Kansas City Zoo & Aquarium, Kansas City, Missouri
  6. Dallas Zoo, Dallas, Texas
  7. Oklahoma City Zoo, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
  8. St Louis Zoo, St Louis, Missouri
  9. Zoo Tampa, Tampa, Florida
  10. Oregon Zoo, Portland, Oregon

Hall of Shame: Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens, Jacksonville, Florida

Dishonorable Mention: Zoo Miami, Miami, Florida


“Bull elephants are massive, mighty animals who don’t belong in zoos. They need miles to roam, to forage, and the companionship of other males. In zoos, they lead lonely half-lives. I stand with In Defense of Animals and its mission to save male elephants, and all elephants, from lifetimes in captivity. It’s time for zoos to stop breeding and confining these majestic, wild beings and send them to sanctuaries,” said Yoga Hosers and Tusk star Harley Quinn Smith.

Bull elephants are often housed alone, separated from females or other males, if there are any. Many zoos have just one male elephant. To control their behavior, they may be deprived of food during musth, when their hormones are raging. Male elephants are anally raped to obtain sperm for breeding and are given little to no choice about who to breed with if natural breeding is attempted. Worst of all, they have nowhere to go to release all their massive pent-up energy. Over time, their spirits and minds shrink to fit their artificial and pitifully tiny space, evidenced by their brain-damaged zoochotic behavior.

“A natural life is impossible for male elephants in captivity,” said Courtney Scott, Elephant Consultant for In Defense of Animals. “Our 2023 list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants reveals how incarcerated bull elephants are leading tormented, tragic lives in U.S. zoos.” 

Zoos across the country are shamed on the list, including three Florida zoos, two Missouri zoos and two Texas zoos, along with Oregon Zoo and Denver Zoo.

Billy, trapped at the #1 worst zoo in Los Angeles, is a poster pachyderm for all the bulls suffering in zoos. He has endured multiple invasive anal sperm extractions and endlessly bobs his head inside a one acre enclosure, a sign that he has developed brain damage from his impoverished conditions.

“Life in captivity for males is unavoidably one long process of thwarting highly motivated behaviors,” write Dr. Rob Atkinson and Dr. Keith Lindsay in their report Expansive, diverse habitats are vital for the welfare of elephants in captivity.

Backed by a huge swell of public support, celebrities including Cher and Lily Tomlin have led the charge to release Billy. A motion to release Billy to sanctuary was introduced by retired Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz and seconded by Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, but it has not yet been added to the council agenda. At a sanctuary, Billy could luxuriate in acres of grass, trees and ponds in a quiet, serene setting. In Defense of Animals has the same hope for Thai at the Houston Zoo, Sdudla at Zoo Tampa and all the male elephants who are trapped in a sterile and often lonely existence in U.S. zoos.

In Defense of Animals is calling on zoos to halt their failed breeding programs, stop importing any more, and to send the ones they have to reputable sanctuaries. The future the nonprofit envisions is for all zoos to shut down their elephant exhibits as 34 zoos have already done, and an end to condemning powerful, majestic bull elephants to the soul-crushing deprivations of life in a zoo.

“Male elephants are difficult and dangerous to keep because their natural physical and emotional needs are impossible to meet in a zoo environment,” said Marilyn Kroplick, M.D., President of In Defense of Animals. “Zoos across the country are forcing bull elephants to lead tormented, tragic lives. Before you buy a zoo ticket, take a hard look at the invasive sexual procedures, solitary confinement and damaged bodies of bull elephants.”


Discover the full list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants:


### NOTES ###

10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America was first published in 2004. Every year since, In Defense of Animals has released a list of zoos that have earned a spot. The list serves to raise awareness about the plight of elephants in zoos where lack of 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 including the Daily Mail, Esquire, and the New York Times. Find out how the list is determined and see all 10 Worst Zoos lists at

In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization with over 250,000 supporters and a 40-year history of fighting for animals, people, and the environment through education and campaigns, as well as hands-on rescue facilities in California, India, South Korea, and rural Mississippi.

Full list:

Images (free to use with credit per filename):


Courtney Scott,, 503-288-6142

Fleur Dawes,, 415-879-6879

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