MEDIA RELEASE: Zoos’ Cruel Plan to Separate Elephants After Decades-Long Companionship Put on Hold

MEDIA RELEASE: Zoos’ Cruel Plan to Separate Elephants After Decades-Long Companionship Put on Hold

MILWAUKEE, WI (February 7, 2020) – In Defense of Animals has welcomed news that cruel plans to send a female African elephant to a different zoo than her companion of as many as 25 years have been put on hold. In Defense of Animals recently revealed documents showing the Milwaukee County Zoo would take Seeni from Pittsburgh Zoo’s International Conservation Center.

“We are relieved to hear that the transfer of Seeni has been put on hold,” said Fleur Dawes of In Defense of Animals. “Seeni was first housed with Sukiri and Thandi in the 1990s after their families were killed in separate slaughters. Yet, shockingly, Thandi was sent to Granby Zoo in Canada just last year. Elephants form deep social bonds that mean everything to them, but zoos split them up, trade them like objects, and confine them in cruel conditions. We call on the Pittsburgh Zoo, Granby Zoo, and Milwaukee County Zoo to reunite and permanently retire Seeni, Sukiri, and Thandi in an accredited sanctuary.”

Records obtained by In Defense of Animals under Wisconsin’s Open Records Law revealed a loan agreement between the two zoos, detailing plans to ship Seeni from the Pittsburgh Zoo’s International Conservation Center (ICC) in Somerset, Pennsylvania, to the Milwaukee County Zoo in Wisconsin. 

A Milwaukee County Zoo representative told Urban Milwaukee that “Pittsburgh was indecisive about the move and schedule.” 

The documents reveal how the zoos each attempted to pass off liability for Seeni during transport. Pittsburgh Zoo’s director of Animal Health noted their experience that zoos can be subject to “a large fine and action from USDA” for killing animals in transit if a vet or tech is not with “the shipment.”

Milwaukee County Zoo has since “acquired” another elephant and stated that they are in “no rush” and have no plans in place at this time to ship Seeni.

Seeni was captured from the wild in the 1990s after her family was slaughtered. Shortly after, she was raised by a family in Botswana along with Sukiri and Thandi. The three elephants made headlines in 2003 thanks to a visit from then-President George Bush in the Mokolodi Nature Reserve. In 2011, they were shipped to Pittsburgh Zoo’s ICC.


In 2017, Seeni gave birth to a female calf. Shockingly, Pittsburgh Zoo cruelly separated Seeni from her newborn within one day of birth and put the calf on display too soon afterward. The calf later sickened and was euthanized at just three months old.  

Pittsburgh Zoo forfeit its accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2015 since it refused to comply with occupational safety standards for handling elephants.

Pittsburgh Zoo is ranked as the #1 Worst Zoo for Elephants in 2019. The Milwaukee County Zoo has been featured on In Defense of Animals’ list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants three times.

This traumatic elephant transfer is the second nixed this year after In Defense of Animals revealed the plans. An In Defense of Animals investigator recorded a representative at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo in Syracuse, NY, stating that a male elephant named Doc would soon be sent “to another zoo for breeding purposes.” Rosamond Gifford Zoo later stated that they were not going to separate Doc from his family.

Elephants cannot thrive in zoos. Many zoos have already shut down their elephant exhibits or plan to phase them out. In Defense of Animals is calling for the Milwaukee County Zoo and Pittsburgh Zoo to do the same.

In Defense of Animals’ list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants for 2019 illustrates striking examples of the different ways that zoos harmfully dominate elephants, including separating long-bonded individuals and family members, repeatedly forcibly inseminating females, and condemning others to a life of extremely unnatural solitude. 

Discover the full list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America for 2019:




Fleur Dawes, [email protected], 415-879-6879

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In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization with over 250,000 supporters and a 37-year history of fighting for animals, people and the environment through education, campaigns, and hands-on rescue facilities in India, South Korea, and rural Mississippi.



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