Portland’s Oregon Zoo ranked world’s worst captive elephant experience

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Care2 has released a list of the “Top 10 Worst Elephant Experiences In The World,” and the results may be surprising to some. The Oregon Zoo, in Portland, Oregon, has found itself at the top of the list, meaning that, according to Care2, its cruel practices and conditions make it the worst captive elephant tourist attraction on Earth.

One of the elephants at The Oregon Zoo. Image credit brx0, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Rankings were determined based on several factors, such as the use of chains, tasers, or bullhooks, which are sharp hooked implements used to painfully force elephants into submission. Also considered were unethical breeding practices, previous animal welfare violations, solitary confinement, and frequent travel.

Elephants do not tolerate captivity well in general, even in locations where fewer cruel practices are carried out. They simply have needs that are very difficult to accommodate in captivity and often experience physical health issues such as foot infections, tuberculosis and arthritis, which significantly shortens the average life span of captive versus wild elephants. Their emotional and social needs are also unmet by nearly all captive environments, where they are unable to roam freely and form life-long bonds with a community of other elephants like they would in the wild. Elephants have highly developed brains, with the emotional centers of their brains being the most developed on earth, surpassing even humans. It has been well established that elephants who experience trauma exhibit symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the same debilitating disorder that many humans struggle with, such as rape survivors and veterans returning from combat.

At The Oregon Zoo, elephants withstand several of Care2’s markers of cruelty, including frequent use of bullhooks. In 2000, the zoo was cited in violation of the Animal Welfare Act due to an elephant in their custody named Rose-Tu having over 175 bullhook wounds all over her body. Also noted are the zoo’s unethical breeding practices, including forcing a now-deceased bull elephant named Packy to repeatedly breed with his sisters, and selling elephant calves to entertainment companies. Seven elephant calves born at The Oregon Zoo died before they reached one year old.

Care2’s ranking of the worst elephant experiences. Image credit Care2.

Chendra, a Borneo pygmy elephant currently held at The Oregon Zoo, has been rejected by the other elephants there, likely due to being a different species than the others, and spends most of her time alone. This is a painful reality for a social animal who naturally forms deep, long-lasting bonds with others of her species. She constantly walks in circles, an example of stereotypic behavior, which is considered a marker of poor mental health. A petition to release Chendra to a sanctuary is currently nearing its goal of 350,000 signatures, and Care2 is planning to erect a billboard in Portland as part of the campaign to free Chendra.

Chendra at The Oregon Zoo. Image credit Nick Christensen, Metro News, CC BY-SA 3.0.

Also ranked on Care2’s list is Garden Bros. Circus, which uses tasers and bullhooks to force their elephants to perform physically-taxing tricks and travels frequently, and Virginia’s Natural Bridge Zoo Park, where elephant Asha lives alone without other elephants and is forced to give 10,000 rides a year to visitors.

View Care2’s full report here and sign the petition to release Chendra to a sanctuary here.


Featured images: two adult elephants and a calf in the outdoor enclosure at The Oregon Zoo. Image credit laughingmonk, CC BY-SA 3.0.

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Dylan has been with Animal People since 2015, starting out as Archivist and Photo Editor and becoming Editor in 2018. In 2018 he received a Masters of Arts in Anthropology from The New School for Social Research, focusing on efforts to open the discipline to an expanded understanding of social worlds as always more than human. Perhaps the most surprising thing to him about this sentiment is that it would be considered so radical in many academic settings. Dylan has been joyously aware of the multispecies nature of the world around him since childhood, and today considers this attention towards nonhuman others to be an integral component of his intellectual, political, and emotional life. His work with Animal People brings his commitment to toppling human exceptionalism together with a passion for writing and activism. Click to see author's profile.

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