In Defense of Animals, recently released its annual list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America. While life in a concrete box or metal jail cell at any zoo is no life at all for an elephant, there are some zoos that have such bad reputations, we just can’t believe they are still in business.

There are three zoos in particular, which continue to make this dishonorable list over and over again:


1. San Antonio Zoo

Source: Oleg Kozlov/Shutterstock

It’s mind-boggling that the San Antonio Zoo has been listed on this past eight years! This is not the record you shouldn’t be trying to break, guys. The San Antonio Zoo is home to Lucky, an elephant who, despite her name, has a life that is anything but charmed. Lucky has lived in confinement for 54 years! Nearly all of those years, she has been alone. She had a glimpse of hope for a better life when a legal team stepped in to defend her freedom in 2015, but the San Antonio Zoo refuses to release her to a sanctuary. We hope that by 2016, she will receive the luck she desperately needs and deserves.

2. Oregon Zoo

Source: Ayham Shoaib/Shutterstock

Taking a spot on the list for the sixth time is the Oregon Zoo, which uses barbaric bullhooks to control its elephants through fear and pain. In addition, to its seven elephants (the zoo plans to increase its exhibit to 19) being repeatedly stabbed on a regular basis, elephants at the Oregon Zoo are known to die early deaths.


In 2015, two male Asian elephants, Rama, 31, and Tusko, 45,  died prematurely at the Oregon Zoo – both were treated for tuberculosis. Asian elephants have a lifespan of 65-70 years old. While the zoo claims that both elephants died of injuries sustained earlier in their lives (Tusko was a former circus elephant), living on concrete, in chains, and being confined to tiny spaces, likely exacerbated their conditions and hastened their deaths.

3. Buttonwood Park Zoo


Buttonwood Park Zoo has also made the Top 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants list this year for the sixth time, due to the fact that the zoo is keeping Asian elephant Ruth enclosed with her cage-mate, Emily, who continues to show aggression toward her. In the wild, elephants form tight-knit herds, but when they are stolen from their families (or bred in captivity) and then spend their lives in concrete boxes, their frustrations are much more intense. So much so, that Emily bit off six inches of Ruth’s tail in 2006. Her tail was later amputated due to frostbite and a bone infection in 2014. The fact that Ruth even received frostbite shows how little the zoo is doing to ensure the welfare and well-being of its elephants. After all, what on Earth is an Asian elephant doing in frigid Massachusetts? The zoo acknowledged that the elephants were placed together when the zoo ran out of room to hold them separately.

One has to ask if the zoo didn’t have enough room for its elephants, why did they have them in the first place? Sadly, the USDA has not intervened, despite the fact that this intolerable and unsafe situation violates the federal Animal Welfare Act. The Buttonwood Park Zoo needs to retire these elephants to sanctuaries where they can be safe in the environment where they belong.


The Other Offenders

Of course, these are only three of the Top 10 – here are this year’s 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants:

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.

For the very first time ever, three zoos took the top spot in the latest rankings: Dallas Zoo, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo in Nebraska, and the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas. The trio used “conservation” claims to import 18 young elephants kidnapped from their mothers and families in Swaziland to be put on display for the amusement of zoo visitors, in a bid to boost attendance.

As much as zoos attempt to justify their imprisonment of elephants by claiming they have a role in conservation efforts, there is no way an elephant held in captivity can improve the status of its species from behind bars.  In zoos, elephants face a life of loneliness and physical conditions caused by their captivity including chronic pain, obesity, high infant mortality rates, infanticide, psychological trauma and behavioral disorders, infertility, tuberculosis, and often-fatal foot disease and arthritis.

“If you want to help protect elephants, don’t visit the zoo and instead help support real conservation efforts that keep wild animals in the wild where they belong,” In Defense of Animals President, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick said.

We couldn’t agree more.