These Were the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in 2015

Every year In Defense of Animals (IDA) releases a list of the Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America and has just come out with its latest run down that brings both good and bad news for elephants.

This year marks the twelfth consecutive year that IDA has released the list, which includes a Top Ten, along with a Dishonorable Mention and an Elephant Hall of Shame that highlights “repeat offenders who have made little to no progress improving conditions for elephants.”

The good news is that four more zoos have closed their elephant exhibits, three of which have appeared on the list in previous years, while five more have announced plans to do so.

The bad news is that while many are finally turning away from the practice of keeping elephants in captivity, more continue to try to keep it alive, claiming their work is being done in the name of education and conservation.

Many also continue to push breeding programs, which might benefit elephants as a whole if there were plans to return them them to wild, but that isn’t the intention of the Species Survival Program for elephants at U.S. zoos – none of the elephants in zoos will ever go home. Unfortunately, because more are dying than being born in captivity, zoos will continue to turn to removing more from the wild to keep a captive population as long as people continue to pay to see them.

“Evidence shows that elephants are not thriving or self-sustaining in zoos. Urgent action must be taken to stop these greedy corporations from plundering elephants from the wild to populate emptying zoo displays,” said Toni Frohoff, Ph.D., Elephant Scientist for IDA. “We call on all remaining zoos with elephants to join the many others that have closed their archaic exhibits, and send the elephants to sanctuaries where they can live in peace.”

Three-Way Tie for First Place

10729108416_9e2fb8f7fc_zCredit: Peter Steward/Flickr

The push to continue tearing more young elephants from their families in the wild has led to a first-ever three-way tie for the number one spot on the latest list. The dishonorable distinction this year is going to the Dallas Zoo in Texas, the Henry Doorly Zoo in Nebraska and the Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas over their current misguided attempt to import 18 wild elephants from Swaziland.

The zoos claim it’s a choice between bringing them here or letting them be killed, but conservationists argue no alternatives were even considered and this plan is driven more by profit than a sincere desire to help elephants. IDA fears that if these zoos are successful, “the elephants face a life plagued by captivity-caused problems such as chronic pain, obesity, high infant mortality rates, infanticide, psychological trauma and behavioral disorders, infertility, tuberculosis, and often-fatal foot disease and arthritis.”

You can help by signing and sharing the petition urging the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to deny these zoos the permit they need to import these elephants.

Hall of Shame Winner

BRONX HappyCredit: In Defense of Animals

The latest Hall of Shame winner is the Bronx Zoo in New York, which was demoted for keeping Lucky, an Asian elephant, in solitary confinement. Despite a contribution to science proving she could recognize herself in a mirror and show self-awareness, Lucky has been left alone in an inadequate enclosure in an inappropriate climate and has been denied the companionship of others of her kind. According to IDA, the zoo, which is owned by the Wildlife Conservation Society, has said it will close its exhibit when one or more of its three remaining elephants dies, but it doesn’t have to wait for another tragedy to do the right thing for its elephant residents.

You can help by signing and sharing the petition urging the Bronx Zoo to send its three elephants to a sanctuary.

Dishonorable Mention

edmonton_lucy_2013_voiceforanimalsedmontonCredit: Voice for Animals Humane Society – Edmonton

The latest dishonorable mention goes to the Edmonton Zoo in Canada for causing Lucy, its lone Asian elephant, to suffer as a result of keeping her in solitary confinement in what IDA points out is one of the coldest cities in Canada. The zoo was last year’s Hall of Shame winner, and has yet to make any improvements, or accept an offer of an insulated coat that would make it more comfortable for her to be outside. She now languishes there alone, suffering from foot disease, arthritis, and an undiagnosed respiratory condition that makes it difficult for her to breathe.

You can help by signing and sharing the petition urging the Edmonton City Council to step in on Lucy’s behalf and support sending her to a sanctuary.

The Full List

1. Dallas Zoo, Texas, Henry Doorly Zoo, Nebraska., and Sedgwick County Zoo, Kansas.
2. Natural Bridge Zoo, Virginia.
3. Oklahoma City Zoo, Oklahoma.
4. Wildlife Safari, Oregon.
5. Buttonwood Park Zoo, Massachusetts.
6. San Antonio Zoo, Texas.
7. Oregon Zoo, Oregon
8. Monterey Zoo, California.
9. Buffalo Zoo, New York
10. Southwick’s Zoo, Massachusetts.

For more info on how to help elephants in captivity and learn more about how zoos are failing them, visit In Defense of Animals and the Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

73 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

Cat Tkach
Cat Tkach5 months ago

close these rotten bastard zoos down for good!!!

Helene Hebbel-Klose

If only all people would boycott zoos and don't think it is okay to deprive an animal of its freedom.

Angela K.
Angela K.5 months ago

Petition signed

M s
M s5 months ago

I LOATHE the US fish wildlife service They are a DISGRACE to our country! why is this rogue agency still in existence? why isn't their horrid murder of animals discussed on national tv? the presidential candidates should be addressing this corrupt animal murdering agency KIDNAPPING ELEPHANTS from their families,enslaving them to a life of MISERY,.PAIN ,ANGUISH, CHAINS ,CONCRETE CELLS AND FLOORS. wHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE USA? we have turned into ruthless violent animal torturers and killers

Georgina Elizab McAlliste

I do notknow how these people feel they have the right to keep animals closed in small spaces, separeting them from their families,and deciding who lives or dies...Are they GOD?

Marie W.
Marie W.5 months ago

So many "zoos" should be dismantled.

Antony M.
Antony M.5 months ago

so now we know

Kay Buhler
Kay buhler5 months ago

Animal activists work and work and work and yet it still seems so overwhelming! How long before mankind recognizes that animals have their own feelings and desires just as humans do? How long before we stop abusing and imprisoning other beings? What will it take to educate the people?

Deborah W.
Deborah W.5 months ago

So now we know (as if we didn't already). For those who might not have seen such a documented listing, this is this remaining ... what's next? Anything even in the works for change? Inquiring minds need to know.