Media Release: Two New York Zoos Shamed on List of 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants

Media Release: Two New York Zoos Shamed on List of 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants

MEDIA RELEASE: Two New York Zoos Shamed on List of 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants


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

The Bronx and Buffalo County, NY (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 two New York zoos. The Bronx Zoo earned a Dishonorable Mention while Buffalo Zoo placed as #6 worst zoo.

“Elephants are suffering horrendously in New York’s zoos”, said In Defense of Animals President, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick. “It is disgusting and unethical to keep tropical animals where they are confined for months in New York’s freezing winter climate, and to condemn a highly-social elephant to live in virtual solitary confinement. The Bronx and Buffalo Zoos are exploiting elephants, violating their rights, stripping them of their dignity, and submitting them to disgusting abuses in their barren prisons. It’s up to you, New York, to shut down these archaic and barbaric zoo exhibits and retire the elephants to a sanctuary where they can live in peace.”

Bronx Zoo

In 2006, the Bronx Zoo acknowledged that it could not meet the needs of the elephants it holds in captivity and announced that it would end its elephant exhibit when one or two of the elephants died. Now a decade later, the three Bronx Zoo Asian elephants are still enduring bitterly cold winters in an exhibit that does not meet their needs and, most disturbingly, one elephant continues to be sequestered and lives in solitary confinement.

Patty and Maxine are bonded and housed together, but the third elephant, ironically named Happy, lives alone and separated from the two so as to not be injured or even killed by them. In 2002, Patty and Maxine attacked Happy’s companion, Grumpy, who died from her injuries. In 2006, Happy was the subject of research in mirror self-recognition that proved that elephants are not only vastly intelligent but also self-aware. Happy’s reward for her contribution to science has been another decade – and perhaps a life sentence – of solitary confinement in which she is poignantly self-aware of her own bleak and lonely existence.

If that weren’t enough, winter in the Bronx is harsh. This year, temperatures dropped to just 1 degree Fahrenheit and must be the cause of considerable yearly suffering for all the elephants, whether outside or locked inside. Elephants simply don’t belong in such a climate; especially alone.

The Bronx Zoo was put in the Hall of Shame last year but In Defense of Animals could not let it rest there due to its repeated offenses that have earned the zoo a Dishonorable Mention. So is the Bronx Zoo really waiting for one or more elephants to die before the last survivors can be sent to a reasonably suitable facility? There is a warm and inviting sanctuary waiting for Happy - who no longer needs to be unhappy serving a long and lonely sentence - and for Patty and Maxine. In Defense of Animals is calling on you, New York, to turn this tragedy into a happy ending.

Buffalo Zoo

Despite reported renovations, living conditions for elephants at the brutally cold Buffalo Zoo remain a daily challenge for Asian elephants Supara and Jothi. The tiny enclosure is still a paltry prison, complete with bars. Here, the two lonely elephants are forced to endure long, hard winters. In February, temperatures dropped to an arctic -11 degrees Fahrenheit - a far cry from their natural tropical climate. This entails months of lack of exercise and being forced to stand on hard surfaces that harm the feet and joints of elephants; a noted cause of captivity-related pain, illness and early mortality. Video footage captured in Buffalo Zoo's barn reveals the pair swaying on the spot, a persistently repetitive motion known as "stereotyped behavior" that indicates intense stress and poor welfare in confined, unnatural environments.

In response to criticisms about the cramped space, zoo president Donna Fernandes said that the elephants, “... can move back and forth. They can turn around,” as though Jothi and Supara should be thankful just to be able to walk a few steps.

Fernandes inadvertently revealed another horror for the elephants, commenting that after the zoo’s new construction, she sees, “... a lot less of what I would consider malicious behavior from visitors.” Apparently, this poor pair had endured, and continues to experience, harassment from the public, adding insult to the injury of being held captive in the cold for so many years.

In October, Fernandes announced that she will be retiring in order “to go through her bucket list and do the things she wants to do with her family.” The elephants she has held captive will never get to make any such meaningful decisions while they are imprisoned in the Buffalo Zoo – which could be for the rest of their lives, if the zoo has its way.

Will the Buffalo Zoo consider Supara and Jothi’s retirement, especially given the AZA standards requiring a minimum of three elephants? A certified, temperate-climate sanctuary, where the elephants could do far more than “move back and forth” and “turn around” would be a rainbow at the end of these two elephants’ bucket lists. In Defense of Animals is calling on Buffalo Zoo to melt its heart, and let the poor elephants thaw out.

AZA Accreditation
Shockingly, Buffalo Zoo and the Bronx Zoo are 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 20% of AZA accredited zoos with elephant exhibits have only two elephants. It is unconscionable that the Bronx Zoo has gone a step further by keeping a member of this highly social species isolated, tragically separating Happy the elephant from the two other females. If Happy were sent to a sanctuary, she could choose among a variety of social companions.

“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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2016 Top Ten Worst Zoos