10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in 2017

Despite how much we’ve learned about what elephants need to be happy and healthy, humans have continued to confine them, tear them from friends and family members, and blatantly exploit them in the name of education and conservation.

While zoos claim to be playing a vital role in supporting efforts to help them, the many heartbreaking ways they’re causing suffering, and far more harm than good, have been exposed yet again.

Some of the biggest issues with keeping them in captivity, and the worst offenders, were just highlighted again in the latest list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants, which is released annually by In Defense of Animals (IDA).

The list, which includes a Top Ten, along with Dishonorable Mentions, covers some of the most egregious treatment of elephants being held in zoos in North America.

Some of the problems found include blatant abuse, the use of bullhooks, reckless breeding, premature deaths, chronic health issues caused by captivity, solitary confinement and many violations of the low standards that are set to ensure their welfare.

The Worst Zoo in 2017

Topeka Zoo, Topeka, Kansas

This year, the Topeka Zoo was named the worst zoo in North America following its inexcusable mistreatment and neglect of Shannon, a 35-year-old elephant who died this past December 11, 2017 as a result.

Just a day earlier, firefighters had been called in to help lift Shannon up after she was found downed. Despite just having an emergency situation, and knowing she had ongoing health issues, staff left her unattended for the night instead of monitoring her closely. The zoo estimated she spent nearly 10 hours unable to get up that night before she died.

“The gross neglect and death of Shannon at Topeka Zoo is only the tip of an iceberg that threatens the lives of all elephants who remain there,” said Dr. Frohoff. “It should be patently obvious that a severely sick elephant must be watched closely around the clock. Not bothering to check Shannon’s video feed for over 9 hours, the night after an emergency ordeal, is inexcusable. Proper observation would have likely minimized Shannon’s suffering, and could possibly have prevented her death. At 35-years old, Shannon should have been living some of her best years, yet she was sick and died at Topeka Zoo.”

More concerning is that this zoo has already been featured five times on this list, previously made the Hall of Shame in 2012 for keeping elephants in inadequate conditions, and it still has more elephants. While it’s too late to save Shannon from suffering, she is now survived by Cora, Tembo, and Sunda who are still being put at risk by ongoing problems there.

IDA is now calling on the zoo to release these three to a sanctuary before it’s too late, and has vowed to take further action if necessary.

Sign the Care2 petition to move the Topeka Zoo elephants to a sanctuary.

Dishonorable Mentions

Edmonton Valley Zoo, Alberta, Canada

It’s not surprising that the Edmonton Valley Zoo is being featured again for its mistreatment of Lucy, a lone Asian elephant the zoo insists on keeping in one of the coldest cities in Canada. Lucy’s advocates have continued to work to free her from her frozen prison, but no one seems to want to take responsibility for enforcing laws intended to help her.

Bronx Zoo, Bronx, New York

The Bronx Zoo has been featured on this list seven years in a row for keeping Happy, one of its three Asian elephants, in solitary confinement. This year, however, its being featured for keeping both its elephants and the public in the dark. When inquiries were made, no one seemed to know how many elephants are even at the zoo now.

The Full List

1. Topeka Zoo, Topeka, Kansas
2. Pittsburgh Zoo and International Conservation Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
3. Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Omaha, Nebraska
4. Louisville Zoo, Louisville, Kentucky
5. Oregon Zoo, Portland, Oregon
6. Myrtle Beach Safari, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
7. Two Tails Ranch, Williston, Florida
8. St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis, Missouri
9. Natural Bridge Zoo, Rockbridge County, Virginia
10. Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia, South Carolina

Hopefully this list and the details surrounding each of the individual elephants at these facilities will help raise awareness about the problems inherent with keeping them in zoos, and the harm confining them continues to cause – without any benefit to them as a species. It would be one thing if these elephants were ever going to be returned to the wild, but that’s not the goal of the Species Survival Program for elephants in zoos. They’ll never be free.

“Elephants have suffered horrendously in North American zoos in 2017,” said IDA’s elephant scientist, Toni Frohoff Ph.D. “Zoos violate elephants’ rights and submit them to horrific and unnecessary abuses. Urgent action is needed to shut down the archaic zoo exhibits on this list, and retire the elephants to sanctuaries where they can live in peace.”

To learn more about the elephants at these facilities, how to help elephants in captivity and how how zoos are failing them, check out In Defense of Animals and the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants.


Photo credit: Andrew Rush/In Defense of Animals


Stephanie s
Stephanie s10 hours ago

Outlaw all zoo's.

sharon b
sharon b11 hours ago

How sad

Angela K
Angela K15 hours ago

Petition already signed & shared
Zoo's are hellplaces for animals !!!

Paulo R
Paulo R16 hours ago

animals don't belong in zoo's. ty

Ramesh B
Ramesh B16 hours ago

Thanks for sharing5

Ruth S
Ruth S17 hours ago


Pietro Maiorana
Pietro Maiorana18 hours ago

Negli occhi del piccoletto vedo tanta tristezza...

Graham P
Graham P22 hours ago

This should read All Zoos are the worst for Elephants. Nuff said!

Sheila Miller
Sheila Miller22 hours ago

Zoos should move large animals to sanctuaries where they can live more freely and be outdoors. I have been to the Bronx Zoo, and the elephants and larger animals should not be there. People are happy to see animals that do not need as much space. Freedom is important to all!

Carole R
Carole Ryesterday

Very sad. They need to clean up their act.