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

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

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


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

Portland and Winston, OR (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, and shaming two Oregon zoos. Oregon Zoo placed fifth, while Wildlife Safari was named seventh worst in North America.

“Elephants are suffering horrendously in Oregon’s zoos”, said In Defense of Animals President, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick. “It is disgusting to force incestuous breeding practices on elephants, to condemn highly-social elephants to solitary confinement, and to use animals as living car washes. Oregon Zoo and Wildlife Safari are exploiting elephants, violating their rights, stripping them of their dignity, and submitting them to disgusting abuses in their barren prisons. It’s time to stop the breeding tragedies and tip these washed out excuses for entertainment down the drain, by shutting down these archaic and barbaric zoo exhibits and retiring the elephants to a sanctuary where they can live in peace.”

Oregon Zoo

2016 marks the seventh year that Oregon Zoo has been shamed on In Defense of Animals’ 10 Worst Zoos list. 8-year old Asian bull elephant Samudra was born at the Oregon Zoo in 2008; his mother, Rose-Tu was also born at the zoo in 1994 where she still is held captive. Rose-Tu was severely beaten by one of the zookeepers in 2000 when she was just five years old.

On multiple occasions in 2016, Samudra was observed isolated in a separate enclosure, even though he is far too young to be alone. During these times, he has exhibited indications of depression which is not surprising given the absence of elephant companionship this juvenile so desperately needs.

Another bull held captive at the zoo, Packy, was born at Oregon Zoo in 1962. He was eventually forced to breed with both his sisters, Hanako and Me-Tu. Four calves were sired, three of whom died within six months, the fourth is still alive. Packy has spent most of his life alone, not by choice, but by force, as is true for most adult bulls in captivity on public display. He suffers from devastating captivity-related conditions, including arthritis, joint disease, and a recurring round of active tuberculosis for which no effective treatment has been found.

Packy is ill, he is isolated, and he is a tragic symbol of the lonely, disturbed life inflicted on bull elephants in zoos. Breeding elephants in captivity does nothing for conservation other than create dysfunctional, diseased and inbred family trees. If only the 58 million dollars spent on Oregon Zoo’s new exhibit could have gone instead towards true conservation, it could be protecting elephant populations and entire habitats in the wild for decades.

Unless he is sent to sanctuary, Samudra, the young bull, will be following in Packy’s crippled footsteps carrying on his diseased and lonely legacy. The reckless captive breeding that is forced upon the elephants at the Oregon Zoo breeds nothing but tragedies and ticket sales.

Wildlife Safari

Wildlife Safari in Oregon is a repeat offender on In Defense of Animals’ Worst Zoos for Elephants lists five out of the past six years. The Zoo still uses barbaric bullhooks, fails to follow modern standards of public safety and disease prevention, and in 2016 it resumed its extraordinary exploitation of elephants by forcing them to perform as living car washes.

Wildlife Safari encourages physical contact between adults and children with elephants as if striving to be a petting zoo; marketing activities to hand-feed elephants and touch them. Recently the Zoo advertised, "Get up close and personal with your favorite pachyderm, pet their trunks, and even get an ‘Elphie’ (Elephant Selfie)." As if these crude and undignified tricks weren’t enough, Wildlife Safari also falsely portrays elephants as artists who are “thrilled” to paint pictures.

We are also concerned for one Asian elephant who is forced to reside at the zoo with five African elephants, revealing disrespect and a lack of understanding for basic elephant social needs.

This business violates modern public safety standards by allowing free contact between elephants and humans. Doing so increases the possibility of physical danger and the spread of diseases like tuberculosis that are transmissible between elephants and humans. Yet, Wildlife Safari encourages the public to touch elephant trunks and participate in circus-like car washes where elephants flush out their noses on the unsuspecting recipients’ cars. This is not conservation; it is a circus.

AZA Accreditation
Shockingly, Oregon Zoo and Wildlife Safari are among over 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 Oregon Zoo has gone a step further by keeping a member of this highly social species isolated, tragically separating Packy from his own kind.

“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

For more information, please visit

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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