10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America – Making a Difference

10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America – Making a Difference

While concerns continue to grow about the plight of African and Asian elephants in the wild, they’re also suffering immensely in captivity all around the world. In March, In Defense of Animals published its respected annual list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America for the seventeenth year in a row to highlight some of the most egregious treatment of elephants in zoos in the U.S. and Canada — and we’ve seen again that our efforts are making a difference. 

Elephants are immense not only in size but also in their depth of social and psychological needs, and intelligence. In captivity, they suffer greatly. The term zoochosis covers the psychological harm done to elephants and other animals in captivity, but they also suffer other physical diseases unique to elephants in captivity. In fact, the average lifespan of an elephant in captivity is less than one-third the lifespan of their relatives in the wild. 

But perhaps the worst harm done is that they never get to live in the ecosystems necessary for them to be true elephants. Elephants in zoos are ghosts, faint remnants of their wild ancestors.    

Each zoo on our annual 10 Worst Zoos list represents a single or group of terrible zoo practices that cause suffering and early death for elephants. After several months of research, submitting Freedom of Information Act requests, reviewing the scientific literature, consulting with elephant experts, and on-site visits whenever possible, we winnow our initial list of 20 or so candidates down to 10. 

During this process, we find common threads of abuse that inspire a theme for the year. In the past, we have cited the Con in Conservation; Zoo Domination of Elephants; Outdated, Failing and Inhumane Captive Methods; and Zoos Forcefully Taking Elephants from Africa to North America, to name just a few. This year, it was Transfer Abuse combined with an appeal for people to compare their own ongoing COVID-19 pandemic quarantine experiences with the captivity that elephants never get to escape. 

The chronic separation and isolation, combined with us losing control of the familiar lives that nurture us, and our not being able to remain with loved ones is something we should be able to understand better now about elephants. Sadly, their lockdown is permanent.

The trauma they suffer from being transferred from one location to the next for breeding through invasive procedures and for creating artificial groups of elephants who the zoos carelessly call "herds," is something most of us are luckily less able to relate to. Nevertheless it is real and documented. They have no choice; they’re transferred somewhere, unloaded from crates and are suddenly among strangers. That’s trauma. 

Fortunately, our efforts have already produced results. This year, African Lion Safari in Canada, the #1 Worst Zoo, was under contract to sell the Fort Worth Zoo, the #2 Worst Zoo, two elephants for $1 million each. Shortly after the news media picked up our list, Fort Worth Zoo announced that the deal had been canceled. 

We will continue our tireless efforts to ensure more victories are to come, but your support is critical. While at least 11 zoos in the U.S. and Canada have closed their elephant exhibits since 2000, at present, some 392 elephants from three species remain in deprivation and forced servitude in North America, far from their Asian and African ecosystems, including Asian elephants, and both African forest and savanna elephants. 

We at In Defense of Animals will not stop working until all captive elephants are retired to accredited sanctuaries, and every exhibit is permanently closed. Please donate to support us in our efforts. We thank you for your kindness and consideration.

10 Worst Zoos 2020:

African Lion Safari, Hamilton, ON

Fort Worth Zoo, Fort Worth, TX

Pittsburgh Zoo, Pittsburgh, PA

Seneca Park Zoo, Rochester, NY

Monterey Zoo, Salinas, CA

Myrtle Beach Safari, Myrtle Beach, SC

Natural Bridge Zoo, Natural Bridge, VA

Memphis Zoo, Memphis, TN

Cameron Park Zoo, Waco, TX

Hogle Zoo, Salt Lake City, UT

Dishonorable Mention: Rosamond Gifford Zoo, Syracuse, NY

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