Henry Doorly Zoo Named and Shamed as #1 Worst Zoo

Henry Doorly Zoo Named and Shamed as #1 Worst Zoo



Contact: Toni Frohoff, Ph.D.,, (805) 836-0496

Henry Doorly Zoo Named and Shamed as #1 Worst Zoo


Omaha, NE (Jan 12, 2016) – International animal protection organization, In Defense of Animals, today released its annual list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America, with Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska, scooping the shameful dishonor of #1 Worst Zoo for Elephants in North America for its involvement in an international scandal.

This particularly dark #1 spot features a ‘terrible trio’ of three zoos at the center of an international scandal, colluding to attempt to import 18 young elephants from Africa to be incarcerated for life in dismal zoo displays. This resulted in the first-ever tie for the #1 spot on the Worst Zoos for Elephants list: Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo in Nebraska, Dallas Zoo in Texas, and the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas.

Now in its twelfth year, In Defense of Animals’ respected list exposes the cruelty behind keeping the Earth’s largest land mammal captive in small, inadequate zoo exhibits that cause a lifetime of misery and lead to premature death.

In 2015, four more zoos closed their cruel elephant exhibits, three of which appeared on the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants list in previous years. Despite this encouraging trend, three U.S. zoos are attempting a highly controversial plan to import young elephants from the African wild to be incarcerated for life in sad zoo displays, resulting in the first-ever tie for the #1 spot on the list: Dallas Zoo, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo in Nebraska, and the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas.

Using ridiculous conservation claims, this ‘terrible trio’ has colluded to import 18 young elephants kidnapped from their mothers and families in Swaziland to be put on display for the amusement of zoo visitors, in a bid to boost attendance. If the zoos succeed, the elephants face a life plagued by captivity-caused problems such as chronic pain, obesity, high infant mortality rates, infanticide, psychological trauma and behavioral disorders, infertility, tuberculosis, and often-fatal foot disease and arthritis.

“Henry Doorly Zoo and its two cohorts most certainly deserve the dishonor of #1 Worst Zoo for Elephants in North America” said In Defense of Animals President, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick. “We call on Henry Doorly Zoo to abandon its plan to kidnap African elephants from Africa.”

Toni Frohoff, Ph.D., Elephant Scientist for In Defense of Animals said, “Evidence shows that elephants are not thriving or self-sustaining in zoos. Urgent action must be taken to stop greedy corporations from plundering elephants from the wild so they can restock elephants dying out in zoo displays faster than they can reproduce. If you want to help protect elephants, don’t visit zoos and instead help support real conservation efforts that keep animals in the wild where they belong.”

The ‘terrible trio’ are working with Big Game Parks, a questionable family-run outfit that runs the parks containing the elephants. Big Game Parks last exported elephants to U.S. zoos in 2003, claiming they would have to otherwise kill elephants because the population had grown too large. Did we mention that the “too-large” population was only about 40 elephants? At that time, U.S. zoos paid $100,000 to Big Game Parks for 11 elephants. The stakes are even higher this time. The data shows that elephants are not thriving in zoos, where they die prematurely due to captivity caused problems. As a result, elephant displays are quickly emptying. In exchange for the 18 elephants, the zoos are offering Big Game Parks $450,000, purportedly – and most dubiously – for them to use for rhino conservation. Further, the zoos are even claiming to be rescuing the elephants, when the reality is that they conveniently “overlooked” options to keep the elephants in Africa – where they belong.

It seems highly unlikely that Big Game Parks would threaten to kill elephants if the zoos were not willing to give such vast sums. After the global outcry over the murder of Cecil the lion, the senseless killing of young elephants by Big Game Parks would not only draw worldwide condemnation, but threaten tourism and revenues for Big Game Parks. Even more outrageous is the fact that a viable offer has been made that would keep the elephants in Africa, where they would have the greatest conservation value. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will determine whether to grant a permit for the import, which is opposed by many of the world’s leading elephant scientists and conservationists. It is yet to be seen whether the agency will abet zoos in perpetuating the unethical and antiquated practice of raiding the wild to restock U.S. zoos for public entertainment and profit. As Sedgwick County Zoo director Mark Reed stated, “It’s not a question of ‘if’ but a question of ‘when’ we will have young elephant calves born here. That’s going to skyrocket the attendance like nothing ever has here.”

1 Dallas Zoo, Tex., Henry Doorly Zoo, Neb., and Sedgwick County Zoo, Kan.
2 Natural Bridge Zoo, Vir.
3 Oklahoma City Zoo, Okla.
4 Wildlife Safari, Ore.
5 Buttonwood Park Zoo, Mass.
6 San Antonio Zoo, Tex.
7 Oregon Zoo, Ore.
8 Monterey Zoo, Calif.
9 Buffalo Zoo, N.Y.
10 Southwick’s Zoo, Mass.

Bronx Zoo, NY

Edmonton Zoo, Alberta, Canada

For more information, please visit


Images of the elephants:

Closed or closing elephant exhibits:

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In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization located in San Rafael, Calif. dedicated to protecting animals’ rights, welfare, and habitats through education, outreach, and our hands-on rescue facilities in India, Africa, and rural Mississippi.