USDA Complaint Against Zoo for Elephant Welfare Concerns

USDA Complaint Against Zoo for Elephant Welfare Concerns


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

In Defense of Animals Files USDA Complaint Against Zoo for Elephant Welfare Concerns

New Bedford, Mass. (April 2, 2015) – In Defense of Animals (IDA) filed a complaint today with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), charging that the Buttonwood Zoo in New Bedford violates the federal Animal Welfare Act by knowingly forcing two incompatible Asian elephants to live in the same enclosure together. Ruth, at 55 years of age, is forced to share an exhibit with Emily, 50, who outweighs Ruth by 1,200 pounds and regularly demonstrates aggressive behavior toward Ruth, sometimes causing injuries.

“It is inhumane and grossly irresponsible to continue to force Ruth to live in such a dangerous and stressful situation,” said Dr. Toni Frohoff, IDA’s Elephant Scientist. “Ruth endures chronic psychological trauma and continued physical injuries from living with Emily. Yet Emily’s hyper-aggression towards Ruth indicates that Emily’s welfare is also severely compromised. Frohoff said, “It is tragic that animals living in unnaturally stressful captive situations may act out in such violent ways compared to their wild counterparts – even towards the only other elephant in their tiny, artificial world”.

Housing two incompatible elephants together is a clear and flagrant violation of Animal Welfare Act regulations, specifically Part 3, Subpart F, Section 3.133, Separation, which states: “Animals housed in the same primary enclosure must be compatible. Animals shall not be housed near animals that interfere with their health or cause them discomfort.”

In June 2006, Emily bit 6 1/2″ of Ruth’s tail off, in one of the more overt incidents. Despite this and subsequent incidents, recent medical records indicate that Ruth was attacked yet again on December 4, 2014. Nine occurrences of aggressive, forceful physical behavior – sufficient to leave visible markings of physical injury – to Ruth by Emily occurred between 2007 and the end of 2013 – when the zoo appeared to stop recording such behavioral events. “It is particularly disturbing that the USDA has not recognized the 29 attacks as recorded by the zoo between 2005 and 2013”, said Dr. Frohoff.

IDA is requesting that the USDA make a much more thorough investigation. Confiscation may be an appropriate and necessary action to reasonably care for Ruth’s wellbeing according to the Animal Welfare Act. IDA further recommends that Ruth be transferred to an accredited U.S. sanctuary as soon as possible. She is in urgent need of a safer environment where she will not be further harassed or attacked by Ruth – and a warmer climate more suitable to her species where she can spend a reasonable amount of time outside without further ill effects.

IDA’s complaint is based on written documentation from the zoo and USDA, Dr. Frohoff’s own analysis of hours of video footage and, on rare occasions, reports from reliable observers and photographic documentation.

2014 was the fifth year in which Buttonwood Park Zoo landed in IDA’s Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants List. Its listing and a corresponding photo can be found here:

To read IDA’s complaint against Buttonwood Park Zoo, please go to: