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

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

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


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

Milwaukee, WI (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 Milwaukee County Zoo in eighth place.

In Defense of Animals listed the Milwaukee County Zoo on its 2014 list with the hope that two African elephants, Ruth and Brittany, might eventually be sent to a certified sanctuary. Instead, the Zoo announced it would begin construction of an expanded elephant exhibit in 2016 to meet AZA elephant captivity standards.

“Expansion” sounds innocent, if not favorable, until it is compared with what the elephants could have had - a lifetime of expansive rolling hills with other elephants in a temperate climate. Instead, Ruth and Brittany, who have been gawked at, displayed, and exploited for 35 years, will continue to endure long, cold winters spending much of their lives inside a barn in a city zoo, no matter how it is expanded. Worse, more elephants will likely be sharing this frigid fate with them. Milwaukee County officials and the Milwaukee Zoological Society expressed the goal of having the capacity to add five male elephants in what is likely be an anticipated effort to breed future generations of cold, city-dwelling, confined elephants.

“Ruth and Brittany are suffering horrendously at Milwaukee County Zoo, and it is both cruel and heartless to consider bringing yet more elephants to this freezing climate”, said In Defense of Animals President, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick. “Milwaukee County Zoo is exploiting these elephants, violating their rights, stripping them of their dignity, and submitting them to disgusting abuses in its barren prison. It is time for this cold hearted zoo to shut down its barbaric elephant exhibit, and retire Ruth and Brittany to a sanctuary where they can live in a more suitable climate.”

Milwaukee County Zoo is dedicating 15 million dollars to its unsavory ambition of ensuring elephants will serve lifetimes in captivity, when the real need for this money is for saving elephants in the African and Asian wilds. This decision is as coldhearted as the winters in Milwaukee, which regularly drop below freezing and this year reached a shocking low of -7F.

Ironically, to accommodate an expanded elephant exhibit, the Milwaukee County Zoo is closing exhibits of species that are native to North America — moose, wolves, and brown bears — in order to artificially create an elephant presence where it doesn’t belong. It’s not too late to stop this ill-conceived vision of elephants in Wisconsin.

Shockingly, Milwaukee County Zoo is among 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 Milwaukee County Zoo 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

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.

IN DEFENSE OF ANIMALS • 3010 KERNER BLVD. • SAN RAFAEL, CA 94901 • 415-448-0048

2016 Top Ten Worst Zoos