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 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
Credit: 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.”
Hall of Shame Winner
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.
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.
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.
Photo credit: Thinkstock