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

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

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


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

New Bedford, MA (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 landing Buttonwood Park Zoo in the Hall of Shame.

This is the seventh consecutive year on In Defense of Animals’ list for Buttonwood Park Zoo, earning it a Hall of Shame Award for refusing to retire two tragically incompatible Asian elephants, Ruth and Emily, to sanctuary. Emily has posed grave dangers to Ruth, including biting off six inches of Ruth’s tail in 2006. Given her excessively stressful living conditions, it is not surprising that in 2016, Ruth was diagnosed with a serious gastro-intestinal condition when she lost a notable amount of weight.

“Ruth and Emily are suffering horrendously in Buttonwood Park Zoo”, said In Defense of Animals President, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick. “Forcing two incompatible elephants to live together is dangerous and unethical. Buttonwood is exploiting these elephants, violating their rights, stripping them of their dignity, and submitting Ruth and Emily to disgusting abuses in its barren prison. It is time to button up, ButtonWood - shut down your archaic and barbaric zoo exhibit now and retire Ruth and Emily to a sanctuary where they can live in peace.”

Buttonwood Park Zoo has claimed that when Ruth and Emily pass away, it will no longer have an elephant exhibit. Why wait and perpetuate so much suffering in the process? Housing two incompatible elephants together is a USDA violation - one this zoo has been cited for many times over. Yet the USDA has not properly intervened and the zoo has stated that instead of sending Ruth and Emily to a spacious and warm-weather sanctuary, it is sentencing these two to live in discord for the rest of their impoverished lives.

To keep its accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the zoo must meet new elephant management standards. To comply with space requirements, the Zoo will spend close to two million dollars on the elephant exhibit which will include expansion of space to a total of not quite ½ an acre - a miserly increase that will ultimately have little impact on the fundamental issue of Ruth and Emily’s troubled and life-threatening relationship.

Had Ruth and Emily’s well-being truly been the priority for the zoo directors and city council, this absurd amount of money could have covered Ruth & Emily’s transport to a sanctuary, as well as ensured their successful integration with other elephants. Yet again, another zoo comes to a moral and financial crossroads with its elephant exhibit, and has chosen profits over truly humane conditions for the elephants.

Shockingly, Buttonwood Park Zoo is among more than 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 Buttonwood is among 20% of AZA accredited zoos with elephant exhibits that 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