Media Release: In Defense of Animals Counters Worst Zoo’s Elephant Cruelty Denial in Oklahoma

Media Release: In Defense of Animals Counters Worst Zoo’s Elephant Cruelty Denial in Oklahoma



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




Oklahoma City, OK (Jan 13, 2016) – In Defense of Animals has responded to Oklahoma City Zoo’s misguided attempts to disparage the animal welfare charity and deflect attention away from the Zoo’s cruel treatment of elephants that earned its place as #1 Worst Zoo for Elephants in North America.

Oklahoma City Zoo responded on January 11th to the catalogue of cruelty detailed in In Defense of Animals’ list of the Ten Worst Zoos by irresponsibly attacking the charity for exposing the terrible conditions in which the Zoo houses elephants. “Oklahoma City Zoo’s statement itself goes a long way to illustrating why it is ranked the worst zoo in the country for its failures to care for these highly-social and intelligent beings,” said In Defense of Animals Elephant Scientist, Toni Frohoff, Ph.D.

“It is tragic when an elephant dies prematurely, and, in this instance, perhaps unnecessarily. We have no doubt that zoo personnel are grieving for Chai and cares for Bamboo, but the Oklahoma City Zoo decided two years ago to take charge of the pair and take on the responsibility of caring for them, knowing full well that they would be denying the elephants - for their entire lifetimes - the opportunity to live as close to their true nature as possible at a certified sanctuary. Now that Chai has died, the Zoo should be looking inward rather than attacking organizations dedicated to animal welfare. We urge Oklahoma City Zoo to stop attacking the messenger and instead devote its energies to addressing the awful, solitary and isolated conditions in which it has now left Bamboo, by sending her to an accredited elephant sanctuary where she can live a more natural life with social companions and a reasonable level of autonomy, which is vitally important to the well-being of elephants.”

The Oklahoma City Zoo seems particularly concerned by In Defense of Animals revealing gut-wrenching footage from December 18, 2015, of Chai in a severely emaciated and weak state, being hoisted to her feet on a lift because she was too weak to stand. After this occurred, on January 30, 2016, Chai was found dead at just 37 years old, roughly two-thirds the age of an elephant’s potential lifespan in the wild.

According to the Zoo, “Chai was receiving medical care due to significant congenital defects to her teeth and jaws that led to her deteriorating health and ultimate death.” No explanation, however, is provided for why these congenital defects to an elephant’s teeth and jaws were not or could not be properly treated.

According to her necropsy report, Chai died of emaciation and sepsis. The Zoo's own records show that it was aware that Chai had lost a total of 1,050 pounds - 13% of her body weight - since she was shipped in from Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo and taken into Oklahoma City Zoo’s custody. According to The Seattle Times investigation and report, when asked about Chai's precipitous and dangerous weight loss reported on the necropsy report, the Zoo remarkably and flippantly responded, “It wasn’t a huge red flag for us.” Chai was also found to have been living with an untreated bacterial infection and multiple pus-filled abscesses, both of which conditions are generally treatable, which no doubt caused her considerable suffering.

Chai’s only friend, Bamboo, survives her, and has since had almost two inches of her tail bitten off by another frustrated elephant in their prison-like pen. And yet, the Zoo callously describes this sad elephant as doing “great” and downplays the injuries suffered by Bamboo as a “minor tail wound” despite public reports stating that, “On at least three occasions, Bamboo suffered bites on her tail, including one described as an ‘amputation’”.

The Zoo also defensively asserts “Elephants in zoos typically live long, healthy lives.” In fact, elephants often live to be only 40-45 years old in captivity, after being subjected to captivity-related physical and psychological stress and suffering for their entire lifetimes, as compared to a 60+ year potential lifespan in the wild.

The zoo also accuses In Defense of Animals of having exploited “sensitive images.” While it is obvious why the Zoo would not want these “sensitive images” reaching the public, the public should not be deprived of the right to see and be informed by such images and information; particularly in the case of Oklahoma City Zoo that is heavily supported by city tax dollars. Through the Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants List and dissemination of such “sensitive images,” In Defense of Animals lifts the veil and allows the public to see for themselves.

“Zoos like Oklahoma City are struggling to remain relevant in our changing culture”, said In Defense of Animals President, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick. “It is time for the Oklahoma City Zoo to take this issue seriously and end Bamboo’s suffering by retiring her to a sanctuary where she can live out her life in peace.”


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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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