10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in 2019 Exposed


Widespread cruelty to elephants in U.S. and Canadian zoos has been exposed by In Defense of Animals on its respected annual list of the 10 Worst Zoos For Elephants. Now in its 16th year, the list reveals practices that harmed and killed elephants in zoos across North America in 2019. Pittsburgh Zoo in Pennsylvania is ranked as the #1 worst zoo for its substandard indoor enclosure, and for forcibly separating elephants who have been together for around a quarter of a century.

“Our 2019 list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants exposes many tragic examples of how elephants suffered in U.S. and Canadian zoos,” said Marilyn Kroplick M.D., President of In Defense of Animals. “The zoos featured on this year’s list demonstrate how public display facilities can cause elephant suffering, regardless of space, ‘enrichment,’ or financial investment. We call on all zoos to stop the harmful domination of elephants.” 

The 2019 list illustrates striking examples of the different ways that zoos harmfully dominate elephants, including separating long-bonded individuals and family members, repeatedly forcibly inseminating females, and condemning others to a life of extremely unnatural solitude. During winter months, cold-climate zoos shut elephants inside cramped indoor enclosures that often have unyielding concrete flooring, which can cause debilitating foot and leg diseases and even death.

San Diego Zoo Global, number nine on the list of the worst zoos for elephants. Image credit Colleen Plumb.

Investigators observed abnormal repetitive “stereotypic” behaviors at some zoos, which indicates chronic stress thought to be caused by artificial environments that do not allow individuals to satisfy their normal behavioral needs. 

Zoos often downplayed animal welfare concerns and concealed their harmful domination of elephants from the public. Through misleading advertising and skewed educational programs, zoos frequently depicted elephants as content. In reality, captive elephants suffer severely in zoos, with many of their social, psychological and physical needs going unmet.

2019 saw a number of important developments that have increased elephant protection, including a phase-out of bullhooks in zoos instituted by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). However, it remains unclear whether all facilities will end the use of this cruel instrument entirely since member zoos sometimes fail to comply with basic AZA elephant welfare standards without losing accreditation.

“It is time for zoos to stop pretending that elephants are not harmed by the constraints and conditions of captivity,” said Fleur Dawes of In Defense of Animals. “It is time for zoos to stop breeding programs, phase out exhibits, and send elephants to accredited sanctuaries, which are designed to put elephants’ needs first, not those of the zoo visitors.”

Dishonorable mention Roger Williams Park Zoo. Image credit In Defense of Animals.

10 worst zoos 2019

1. Pittsburgh Zoo, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

2. Zoo Miami, Miami, Florida

3. Bronx Zoo, Bronx, New York

4. Oregon Zoo, Portland, Oregon 

5. Louisville Zoo, Louisville, Kentucky  

6. Natural Bridge Zoo, Rockbridge County, Virginia

7. Edmonton Valley Zoo, Edmonton, Alberta

8. Hogle Zoo, Salt Lake City, Utah

9. San Diego Zoo Global, San Diego, California

10. Rosamond Gifford Zoo, Syracuse, New York  

Dishonorable mention: Roger Williams Park Zoo, Providence, Rhode Island

Discover the full list of the 10 Worst Zoos For Elephants in North America 2019 here.

Featured image: Pittsburgh Zoo is ranked as #1 worst zoo for elephants in North America. Image credit In Defense of Animals.

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In Defense of Animals is an international animal protection organization with over 250,000 valued supporters and a 30-year history of protecting animals, people and the environment through education, campaigns and hands on rescue facilities in India, Africa, and rural Mississippi. Our main headquarters are established in San Rafael, California. Click to see author's profile.

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