Media Release: 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants Exposed by In Defense of Animals

Media Release: 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants Exposed by In Defense of Animals

MEDIA RELEASE: 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants Exposed by In Defense of Animals


CONTACT: Toni Frohoff, Ph.D.,, 805-836-0496

San Rafael, CA (Jan 10, 2016) – In Defense of Animals has released its respected annual list of the Ten Worst Zoos For Elephants for 2016, exposing the shocking hidden suffering of elephants in zoos in North America. The list reveals captivity-related deaths, abuse with weapons, grossly inadequate conditions, families ripped apart, elephants torn from Africa and shipped to US zoos, elephants forced to wash cars, and even elephants found playing with a car battery.

“2016 was a shocking year for zoo elephant suffering”, said In Defense of Animals President, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick. “In our zoos, elephants’ rights are violated, they are stripped of their dignity, and submitted to disgusting abuses. We owe it to elephants to stop exploiting them. It is time to shut down archaic and barbaric zoo exhibits, and retire elephants to sanctuaries where they can live in peace.”

Zoos all over the US and one zoo in Canada appear on the worst list, with Oklahoma City Zoo shamed as the #1 Worst Zoo. Tragic captive elephant Chai was found dead outside the Oklahoma elephant exhibit on a very cold January morning in 2016, at just 37 years old. She had lost 1,000 pounds since she was shipped in from Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. Gut-wrenching footage reveals Chai in a severely emaciated and weak state, being hoisted on a crane after she was unable to stand up. After her death, Chai was found to have been suffering from a bacterial infection and untreated pus-filled abscesses, marking a gross failing of the zoo to provide basic animal care.

Chai’s only friend Bamboo survives her, and has since had two inches of her tail bitten off by another frustrated elephant in their prison-like pen. Bamboo has been kept in either in solitary confinement with the aggressive female, or in the occasional company of a young male; none of these circumstances constitute even reasonable social companionship. Yet Oklahoma Zoo callously describes this sad elephant inmate as doing “great”.

Chai and Bamboo are not the only victims of Oklahoma Zoo’s mismanagement. Baby elephant Malee died at in late 2015 at the age of just four. She was likely killed by the same herpes virus the zoo knew Chai and Bamboo had been exposed to.

All these tragedies could have been avoided by sending Chai and Bamboo to a sanctuary home that offered to accept the pair when Woodland Park Zoo shut down its elephant exhibit in 2014.

Shockingly, Oklahoma City Zoo is among half of all the captive facilities shamed on the Ten Worst Zoos List that are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, showing how little AZA certification stands for. In 2016, the Association’s own study found social aspects of elephant lives to be of paramount importance to their wellbeing, yet 20% of AZA accredited zoos with elephant exhibits have only two elephants. Some AZA certified zoos are even keeping highly social elephants in isolation, such as the Bronx Zoo, where Happy the female elephant is tragically separated from two other females.

“Zoos are consumers, not conservers, of elephants”, said In Defense of Animals Elephant Scientist, Toni Frohoff, Ph.D. “Captive elephants are dying faster than they can reproduce, leading zoos to steal young elephants from the wild, which destroys the elephant societies zoos claim to be conserving. Behind the scenes, zoos in the US and Canada are condemning Earth’s largest land mammals to lifetimes of deprivation, disease, despair, and early death. It is time to end our shameful exploitation of elephants in American zoos.”

1. Oklahoma City Zoo, Oklahoma
2. Natural Bridge Zoo, Rockbridge County, Virginia
3. Honolulu Zoo, Hawaii
4. Edmonton Valley Zoo, Alberta, Canada
5. Oregon Zoo, Portland, Oregon
6. Buffalo Zoo, Buffalo, New York
7. Wildlife Safari, Winston, Oregon
8. Pittsburgh Zoo, Pennsylvania
9. Milwaukee County Zoo, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
10. Fort Worth Zoo, Fort Worth, Texas

Buttonwood Park Zoo, New Bedford, Massachusetts

Bronx Zoo, Bronx, New York

For more information, please visit

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In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization with over 250,000 supporters and a 30-year history of fighting for animals, people and the environment through education, campaigns and hands on rescue facilities in India, Africa, and rural Mississippi.

IN DEFENSE OF ANIMALS • 3010 KERNER BLVD. • SAN RAFAEL, CA 94901 • 415-448-0048

2016 Top Ten Worst Zoos