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

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

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


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

Pittsburgh, PA (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 Pittsburgh Zoo in eighth place.

The Pittsburgh Zoo’s conglomerate of elephant captors goes to extremes. With thirteen elephants under its control, Pittsburgh Zoo and its International Elephant Center™ (IEC) intend to create an explosion of elephant births in North America — where, ecologically, they don't belong. Yet the Zoo’s IEC has not demonstrated much success in its cold-climate breeding mill. The Zoo’s IEC was listed on In Defense of Animals’ 2010 Worst Zoos list for “warehousing elephants in miserable conditions” during long winters where temperatures drop near zero degrees Fahrenheit.

Its zealousness doesn’t end there. The Pittsburgh Zoo and its IEC insisted on continuing the use of archaic bullhooks on elephants and also refused to adequately adapt to modern standards of protective contact with elephants that would improve staff and public health and safety. Accordingly, the Zoo sacrificed its accreditation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Its most unusual violation was its use of dogs to control elephants until U.S. Department of Agriculture animal welfare regulators ordered it to stop in 2015. The Pittsburgh Zoo and the IEC's executive director even testified in opposition to legislation banning traveling animal acts.

“Elephants are suffering horrendously at Pittsburgh Zoo and its International Elephant Center™”, said In Defense of Animals President, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick. “Pittsburgh Zoo is exploiting these elephants, violating their rights, stripping them of their dignity, and submitting them to disgusting abuses in its prison. It is time for this frigid elephant mill to shut down its barbaric zoo exhibit and sham conservation center, and retire the elephants to a sanctuary where they can live in peace.”

None of the elephants or their offspring bred at the Pittsburgh breeding mill will be returned to the wild. And this facility will likely continue without even AZA recognition and with whatever second-rate certification it can obtain. More elephants will suffer in captivity, as was the case for Bette and Kallie who were cruelly separated after being deeply bonded for 10 years to grow the zoo and IEC’s breeding program.

Pittsburgh Zoo and its IEC consume substantial funding that should be going to conservation for elephants in Asia and Africa where they belong.

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