Two Oregon Zoos Named and Shamed in Worst Zoo List

Two Oregon Zoos Named and Shamed in Worst Zoo List



Contact: Toni Frohoff, Ph.D.,, (805) 836-0496

Two Oregon Zoos Named and Shamed in Worst Zoo List


Portland and Winston, OR (Jan 12, 2016) – International animal protection organization, In Defense of Animals, today released its annual list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America, with two Oregon zoos featuring on the dishonorable list. Wildlife Safari in Winston has scooped the shameful dishonor of being the #4 Worst Zoo for Elephants in North America, and Oregon Zoo in Portland is in #7th place. Oregon Zoo is cited for being “bullhook bullies” to the elephants and for being stuck in the dark ages when it comes to elephant care and welfare.

Now in its twelfth year, In Defense of Animals’ respected list exposes the cruelty behind keeping the Earth’s largest land mammal captive in small, inadequate zoo exhibits that cause a lifetime of misery and lead to premature death.

“It is shocking that a progressive state like Oregon has not one but two of the worst zoos for elephants in North America. There has been a string of premature elephant deaths at Wildlife Safari and Oregon Zoo in recent years” said In Defense of Animals President, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick. “We call on Wildlife Safari and Oregon Zoo to release these elephants from their desperate lives to a sanctuary where they can be with her own kind in a much more suitable environment.”

Toni Frohoff, Ph.D., Elephant Scientist for In Defense of Animals said, “Evidence shows that elephants are not thriving or self-sustaining in zoos. Urgent action must be taken to stop greedy corporations from plundering elephants from the wild so they can restock elephants dying out in zoo displays faster than they can reproduce. If you want to help protect elephants, don’t visit zoos and instead help support real conservation efforts that keep animals in the wild where they belong.”


Two elephants acquired by Wildlife Safari from Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in 2015 have gone from one abusement park to another. In Defense of Animals spotlighted Wildlife Safari’s horrendous elephant “car washes” and elephant rides in last year’s list. While it is a relief that we didn’t see signs of either of those ridiculous stunts in 2015, Wildlife Safari was still wielding barbaric bullhooks around the elephants – a menacing device resembling a fireplace poker that is used to hook, jab and strike elephants, used by keepers to control elephants through fear of painful punishment. Still advertised is demeaning and dangerous elephant “petting”, having elephants paint for people, circus-like performances at birthday parties, and most recently, elephant selfies (which it calls “Elphies”).

Unlike the pool the zoo finally constructed for the elephants, its claims of being “dedicated to education, conservation and research” just don’t hold water. The wondrous nature of wild elephants is not what visitors learn or what drives Wildlife Safari. The message the zoo sends is that elephants are here for our entertainment, rather than instilling the respect that is necessary to protect and preserve elephants in the wild. As if this weren’t enough, two elephants have died at Wildlife Safari over the past five years, at ages 40 and 44 – when female African elephants would naturally be in their prime. There is nothing amusing about clueless and callous Wildlife Safari in Winston.


In 2015, two male Asian elephants died prematurely at the Oregon Zoo: Rama, 31, and Tusko, 45 – both of whom were treated for tuberculosis. Asian elephants have a lifespan of 65-70 years old. The zoo claims that both elephants died of injuries sustained earlier in their lives, yet they occurred while in captivity. Living on concrete, and being confined to tiny outdoor and indoor spaces, likely exacerbated their conditions and hastened their deaths. Tusko had the added misfortune of spending his earlier days in the circus, where he would have been kept chained for much of his life. Tusko leaves behind offspring Sam and Lily, who face a similarly bleak outlook, considering the short life expectancy for elephants in zoos. Even the recently opened “Elephants Lands” exhibit, at a cost of $59 million dollars, won’t help. At barely more than four artificial acres, it is inadequate for the seven current elephants, much less the 19 elephants that the zoo plans to hold in that same space.

Shamefully, this zoo also insists on the continued use of the barbaric bullhook to control the elephants through intimidation, fear, and pain. This marks the sixth time in ten years that Oregon Zoo has appeared on In Defense of Animals’ Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants list, and for good reason. The Oregon Zoo is still stuck in the dark ages when it comes to elephant care and welfare.

1 Dallas Zoo, Tex., Henry Doorly Zoo, Neb., and Sedgwick County Zoo, Kan.
2 Natural Bridge Zoo, Vir.
3 Oklahoma City Zoo, Okla.
4 Wildlife Safari, Ore.
5 Buttonwood Park Zoo, Mass.
6 San Antonio Zoo, Tex.
7 Oregon Zoo, Ore.
8 Monterey Zoo, Calif.
9 Buffalo Zoo, N.Y.
10 Southwick’s Zoo, Mass.

Bronx Zoo, NY

Edmonton Zoo, Alberta, Canada

For more information, please visit


Images of the elephants:

Closed or closing elephant exhibits:

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In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization located in San Rafael, Calif. dedicated to protecting animals’ rights, welfare, and habitats through education, outreach, and our hands-on rescue facilities in India, Africa, and rural Mississippi.

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