Media Release: Hawaii Zoo Shamed on List of 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants

Media Release: Hawaii Zoo Shamed on List of 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants

MEDIA RELEASE: Hawaii Zoo Shamed on List of 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants


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

Honolulu, HI (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, and shaming Honolulu Zoo in third place.

This year is the fourth appearance of Honolulu Zoo on In Defense of Animals’ List of the Worst Zoos. Vaigai and Mari, two female Indian elephants, had the misfortune of being kidnapped from India only to be victimized for decades by Honolulu Zoo’s inability to provide them with reasonably consistent and decent management even by captive facility standards. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) withdrew Honolulu Zoo’s accreditation in 2016 after its 2015 inspection. Five Honolulu Zoo directors have quit in the past six years.

“Vaigai and Mari are suffering horrendously at Honolulu Zoo, which is responsible for multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act”, said In Defense of Animals President, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick. “Honolulu Zoo is proving that Hawaii is no paradise for elephants, by exploiting them, violating their rights, stripping them of their dignity, and submitting them to disgusting abuses in its barren prison. It is time to shut down Honolulu Zoo’s archaic and barbaric elephant exhibit, and retire Vaigai and Mari to a sanctuary where they can enjoy a true paradise for elephants.”

A former chief of the AZA reported in late 2016 that the elephants were playing with a car battery that they had recently found or dug up. Other violations at Honolulu Zoo included too little shade provided for the elephants from the direct sun, inadequately tested and brackish water, a notable absence of habitat enrichment, and unsafe rocks that posed a danger to elephants’ feet. A primary key reason cited for the loss of accreditation was the Zoo’s long history of lacking funds and support from the City and County of Honolulu, the Zoo’s legally-bound administrators. Hawaii voters recently approved an amendment to prop up the failing zoo through tax revenues.

Honolulu Zoo expanded its elephant exhibit at a cost of 12 million dollars, but still made our 2011 list. As In Defense of Animals noted then, the enclosure was already outdated and far too small to meet evolving standards. The Zoo still puts elephants and keepers at risk by putting staff in direct contact with the elephants while brandishing bullhooks - which are nothing less than weapons - to control elephants through pain and fear.

Shockingly, more than half of all the captive facilities shamed on the Ten Worst Zoos List 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 members of this highly social species isolated, 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.”

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. 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.

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

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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.

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2016 Top Ten Worst Zoos