Update: Abused Elephant Asha Sent from One Worst Zoo to Another

Update: Abused Elephant Asha Sent from One Worst Zoo to Another

Disgraced Natural Bridge Zoo in Virginia has angered animal advocates by shipping its long-suffering Asian elephant Asha to Two Tails Ranch, another abusive zoo in Williston, Florida, near Gainesville. Both zoos have been cited on In Defense of Animals' 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants list.

While some animals have escaped the misery of Virginia’s Natural Bridge Zoo, Asha’s nightmare continues at another elephant abuser in Florida; Two Tails Ranch. Asha is at risk of harmful exploitation since Two Tails Ranch forces elephants to give back-deforming rides, pose for photos, and interact with the public for feeding and bathing — all under threat of painful assaults with a sharp bullhook

The frustration of confinement led Asha to injure a keeper and kill another elephant in the past. We urge Two Tails Ranch to prioritize public, keeper, and elephant safety by ending its elephant experiences and sending Asha and its other elephants to a real sanctuary. They deserve to enjoy the remainder of their lives in a serene and spacious environment, free from years of forced labor for entertainment.

Natural Bridge Zoo was named number one Worst Zoo for Elephants in 2014, and appeared on the list for seven in a row, most recently in 2020. The zoo has racked up over 150 Animal Welfare Act violations over 30 years. Finally, in December 2023, around 100 animals were confiscated by the State of Virginia. Over two dozen were dead. Management of the roadside zoo has since passed to the owner’s daughter. 

Now, Natural Bridge Zoo has falsely claimed that Asha was sent to a sanctuary. A post on May 23 reads, “We are pleased to announce that our beloved Asha the elephant has been retired to a sanctuary!”

Over 16,000 In Defense of Animals supporters had written to urge Natural Bridge Zoo’s owners to send Asha to a sanctuary. Instead, Asha was sent to Two Tails Ranch, a dreadful circus-like attraction in Florida.

Two Tails Ranch was listed seventh worst zoo for elephants in 2017, for its life-threatening public safety lapses and for forcing elephants to perform in an actual traveling circus, as well as at its static venue.

Asha has endured a life of abuse at Natural Bridge Zoo. She was captured in Africa at two years old, ripped from her mother and family, and sent off to Virginia, a world away from her wild home. As the only elephant for 36 of her 39 years at the zoo, she lived a solitary life and endured a constant regime of harsh training to profit Natural Bridge Zoo by giving thousands of rides. 

Elephant backs are not naturally equipped for riding. Their spines jut upwards so riders sit on top of their spine which can sag over the years from this painful and unnatural practice. Offering rides can also pose a danger to visitors, handlers, and other elephants. In 1996, Asha attacked her handler and attacked and killed another elephant, Tia, three years after Tia arrived at the zoo. Due to the extreme deprivations and frustrations of confinement, elephants can become aggressive, snap, and become violent. Public endangerment is why the majority of zoos no longer offer elephant rides.

Two Tails Ranch is well aware of its own public safety risks; one zoogoer sustained serious injuries in 2014 as an elephant tried to pull her through a fence which the facility knew was inadequate. Yet, for a steep price, visitors can still feed, ride, bathe, and take part in one-on-one interactions with the elephants today. 

Just as at Natural Bridge, the staff at Two Tails force the elephants to comply with the use of bullhooks. In places where the weapon is still permitted, the long metal rod with a sharp hook at the end is used to pierce and prod elephants' sensitive skin. Visitors don't realize the abuse that goes into elephant rides, photo opportunities, or feeding experiences. 

Since Asha left Virginia, legislators have been able to pass a bullhook ban. It will effectively end the most dangerous and exploitative elephant activities in the state. However, bullhooks are still legal in Florida and elephant abuse continues unchecked.

Two Tails Ranch rents out its elephants to circuses, schools, hospitals, wedding parties, parades, and Republican conventions. As its website states, “Off-site events are one of our main sources of income to keep the ranch going and to help promote our efforts in care, management, and conservation.” It is unclear what conservation Two Tails is engaged in. It manages its six Asian elephants in archaic free contact with bullhooks.

Two Tails also misinforms the public about elephants. Despite its claims that elephants live longer in captivity, elephants die at half the age of their wild cousins, on average. When asked why their elephants sway, a typical sign of brain-damaged zoochosis from stress, Two Tails excuses it as an attempt to get comfortable. Swaying, bobbing, and pacing, all indicate extreme stress from captivity and are not seen in wild elephants.

In Defense of Animals encourages people to avoid visiting Two Tails Ranch or any other elephant attraction. Forty zoos have closed or announced the closure of their elephant exhibits. 

Experts agree that zoo captivity harms elephants, which is why In Defense of Animals urges all zoos to phase out their exhibits and send elephants to reputable sanctuaries where their needs are prioritized over profits.

To learn more about what’s wrong with keeping elephants in zoos, check out our 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants and visit our Elephants campaign for the latest news and ways you can get involved. Donations to support our work are always appreciated.

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