In Defense of Animals (IDA) just released their annual list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America in 2021. The list exposed accredited zoos considered “the best” but are the reason for many captivity-caused brain damage amongst elephants. Ricky Gervais and Moby are standing with IDA and calling for the elephants to be released from confinement and put in accredited sanctuaries.

Source: National Geographic/Youtube

In Defense of Animals has created this list for 17 years, in hope of exposing the detrimental effects that captivity has on elephants’ physical and emotional health. This year, their list incorporates new research that found just how damaging captivity can be to elephants’ brains. The lead author of the study, Bob Jacobs, Ph.D., Professor of Neuroscience at Colorado College, summarized the study.

“Zoo captivity damages elephant brains. There’s a vast gap between the rich environment nature provides for elephants’ thoughtful brains versus zoo captivity, which is impoverished and robs elephants of their social, mental, and neural needs. Decades of neuroscience research show that an impoverished brain is a damaged brain. Whether it is the 10 Worst Zoos or the ten best, all zoos are detrimental to elephants’ brains and cause physical and mental suffering”

All 10 zoos in the 2021’s list besides, The Preserve, are accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) or Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA). Even with these certifications, the zoos fail to provide adequate protection and care for these large animals. These elephants are suffering in insolation, inadequate spaces and are suffering premature deaths and illnesses like zoochosis, which is captivity-caused due to stress, boredom, and frustration.

Ricky Gervais, animal advocate, and comedian-actor, said, “Elephants are sensitive, emotional, and highly intelligent beings — seeing them suffer mentally and physically behind bars is heartbreaking. Join me and stand with In Defense of Animals against the captivity of elephants in zoos.”

The #1 worst zoo in North America is in Alberta, Canada, and the conditions are shocking. The Edmonton Valley Zoo imprisons an elephant named Lucy. The temperatures at the zoo often reach below freezing and Lucy spends most of her life inside, alone, and in confinement.

Lucy walking through the cold snow
Source: Lucy’s Edmonton Advocacy Project/Press Release

Lucy is the only elephant at the zoo and she was born in Sri Lanka in 1975. After just two years of experiencing a free life, she was captured. She was then subjected to a series of abusive transfers and a breeding loan to the Calgary Zoo, which was thankfully, unsuccessful. Then, Lucy was shipped back to the Edmonton Valley Zoo in 1988, where the poor intelligent creature has remained for the last 34 years.

The freezing temperatures and 34 years of captivity are enough of a reason why this zoo came in at number one, but it only gets worse. For her first 18 years in the zoo, she was accompanied by another young elephant named Samantha. In 2007, Samantha was transported to North Carolina Zoo for breeding, and Lucy waited and waited, but her friend never returned.

Lucy has been alone in isolation for 15 years. According to the CAZA standards, zoos are required to have at least three elephants, but of course, CAZA has granted the zoo a special exception. Elephants are meant to live in herds their whole lives and they are highly social creatures.

Source: Friends of Lucy/Youtube

The zoo has no expert on staff and continuously resists offers for independent veterinarians to examine Lucy. The poor animal is suffering from arthritis, malformed teeth, Uterine Leiomyomas, a very painful condition, colic, poor mobility on her left side, foot disease with pus-filled lesions, and severe respiratory issues. Her medical records also indicate that she is overweight and has been in pain for several years. When alone, she has been observed repetitively shifting her weight, which is a sign of zoochosis.

The research shows that conditions like these physically damage elephants’ brains. Edmonton’s long winters force Lucy to spend nearly all of her life in a concrete barn. When staff goes home, she is alone, isolated, and vulnerable for up to 12 hours.

Lucy’s outdoor enclosure is a half-acre, which meets the CAZA standards but clearly, is far too small for even just one elephant. Lucy is often controlled by a bullhook, a weapon that is so cruel, it is banned by the AZA.

Source: LEAP Edmonton/Youtube

Cher has joined the fight for Lucy’s freedom and a documentary about Lucy is in production. City Council in the area has also supported Lucy being retired to a sanctuary, along with ⅔ of citizens supporting lucy’s relocation as well. 2022 is Lucy’s 45th year of captivity.

“In the wild, Lucy would have lived her entire life among a matriarchal herd of elephants, and been able to make decisions about her own life. Instead, she’s been confined to a barren enclosure in an unquestionably inappropriate climate, and she’s been all alone in violation of standards set to ensure elephant welfare,” said Brittany Michelson, Captive Animals Campaigner for In Defense of Animals.

“Given what we’ve learned about how complex elephants’ minds and social structures are, and how continuing to keep them in zoos is physically harming them to the point of giving them literal brain damage, we hope the number of zoos that are phasing out their exhibits keeps growing. Zoos cause elephant suffering and continuing to keep them captive is reprehensible.”

Source: In Defense of Animals/Youtube

Marylin Kroplick M.D., President of In Defense of Animals, said, “Year after year, our research finds more ways elephants suffer in zoos,” she continued. “Keeping elephants in zoos causes brain damage. Zoos imprison elephants for nothing more than profit and entertainment, which is unforgivable. We call on all zoos to commit to phasing out their exhibits and sending their elephants to accredited sanctuaries where they can live a much more natural life.”

28 AZA zoos have closed or pledged to close their elephant exhibits, but the fight is not over.

“I always felt bad seeing sad animals in zoos, but I had no idea that zoos cause brain damage to elephants,” said animal activist and musician Moby. “The list of 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants is a shocking alarm call exposing how elephants are suffering and dying. Zoos fail to meet elephants’ unique needs because it’s impossible to replicate their natural living environments.”

As humans, we have no right to imprison these animals. Animals should not ever be held captive and used to make a profit. Elephants are sentient beings and they are sensitive, emotional, and highly intelligent. They deserve to be in the wild where they are meant to be, and we need to put an end to all zoos that hold animals captive to make a quick buck off of the public. Sign this petition to stop North American zoos from selling elephants!

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