10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in 2018

The more we learn about elephants, the more fascinating they become. Yet despite the knowledge that’s been gained about how intelligent and complex they are, and what they need to be happy and healthy, we’ve continued to harm them by holding them captive in zoos.

While zoos continue to claim that it’s being done in the name of education and conservation, the truth about how they’re being exploited has been exposed again in the latest list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America, which is compiled and released by In Defense of Animals (IDA) every year, highlighting some of the biggest problems with captivity and the worst offenders.

The list, which includes a Top Ten, along with a Dishonorable Mention and a Hall of Shame that highlights “repeat offenders who have made little to no progress improving conditions for elephants,” covers some of the most egregious treatment of elephants being held in zoos in North America.

Problems range from blatant abuse, chronic health issues, premature deaths, the use of bullhooks to train and control elephants through pain and intimidation, reckless breeding and keeping them in solitary confinement to forcing them to perform tricks for guests and making them live in inappropriate climates in inadequate enclosures – in many cases in violation of the standards that have been set in an attempt to ensure their welfare – among other issues.

Not only does captivity itself cause immense harm, because more are dying than being born, zoos have continued to turn to taking them from the wild to keep a captive population, which does nothing for their conservation.

“Elephants are quickly disappearing from the planet and the captive animal industry is more than willing to deplete wild herds instead of supporting them. Captivity is not conservation and never will be. It’s time for zoos to stop keeping elephants captive to suffer and die, and instead focus on true conservation, which is protecting elephants where they live, in the wild,” said Fleur Dawes, IDA’s Communications Director.

The Worst Zoo in 2018

The Bronx Zoo, Bronx, New York

In 2018, the Bronx Zoo, which is operated by the Wildlife Conservation Society, was named worst of them all. It’s already appeared on this list eight times, and earned the dishonorable ranking for keeping elephants in solitary confinement and failing to make good on a promise it made back in 2006 to close down its elephant exhibit after one or more of its Asian elephants died. Sadly, it did lose one this past November, but the zoo hasn’t made any updates about the fate of its two remaining elephants, Patty and Happy, who are now both being kept in isolation.

Despite a contribution to science proving she could recognize herself in a mirror and show self-awareness, Happy has been left alone in an inadequate enclosure in an inappropriate climate and has been denied the companionship of others of her kind for years. Even though she’s had companions in the past, the zoo claims she doesn’t get along with other elephants and has forced her to live in isolation.

While Happy is at the center of a lawsuit filed by the Nonhuman Rights Project seeking legal personhood for her, and her freedom, IDA is also calling on WCS, the New York City Council and Mayor Bill DeBlasio to release both of its elephants to an accredited sanctuary.

Full List of the 10 Worst Zoos 2018

1. Bronx Zoo, Bronx, New York
2. Natural Bridge Zoo, Rockbridge County, Virginia
3. Dallas Zoo, Dallas, Texas
4. Louisville Zoo, Louisville, Kentucky
5. Roger Williams Park Zoo, Providence, Rhode Island
6. Birmingham Zoo, Birmingham, Alabama
7. Caldwell Foundation Zoo, Tyler, Texas
8. Topeka Zoo, Topeka, Kansas
9. Seneca Park Zoo, Rochester, New York
10. Milwaukee County Zoo, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Hall of Shame

Oregon Zoo, Portland, Oregon

Dishonorable Mention

Wild Adventures Theme Park, Valdosta, Georgia

“Elephants are not thriving in constricted zoo exhibits, no matter how fresh the paint or the addition of an acre or two,” said IDA’s President, Marilyn Kroplick M.D. “So-called ‘modern’ zoos continue to use and abuse elephants as property in their relentless pursuit of profits – and the animals always pay the price. Please don’t visit zoos that hold elephants captive.”

Hopefully this list and the details surrounding how each of the individual elephants at these zoos are suffering will help raise awareness about the problems inherent with keeping them in captivity, and the harm confining them continues to cause – without any benefit to them either individually or 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, ever be free.

Photo credit: Caldwell Zoo/IDA


hELEN h6 days ago


Catherine Z
Catherine Z5 months ago


Daniel N
Past Member 5 months ago

Thank you

Marija M
Marija M6 months ago

All in USA???

federico bortoletto

Grazie dell'articolo veramente interessante!!!

pam w
pam w6 months ago

Sure enough...I just tried to comment on another thread and...up popped the "Free Billy from his cramped life at LA zoo"...he's pictured while browsing in one of three tree-lined ''walks'' where, in one spot, he can be quite close to patrons. What they don't want you to see is the SIX AND A HALF ACRES behind him! In my opinion, this is just slander.

pam w
pam w6 months ago

Before jerking your knees about this list....I'd urge you to actually VISIT the one closest to you and TALK to them about their elephant enclosures, enrichment, etc. I've seen these HYSTERICAL and often DUPLICITOUS ''lists'' often enough when directed at the LA Zoo to know that PETA and IDE and other such organizations LIE! I've seen/heard countless LIES about our elephants. There's an hysterical one on Care2 about Billy...claiming he's living in ''torture'' blah, blah, blah....when the fact is that we have three rescued circus animals and Billy on a SIX AND A HALF ACRE exhibit with three deep-water pools, a waterfall, countless enrichment devices, carefully chosen substrates and changes in elevation (for their legs and feet.) Photos are either ''shopped'' or carefully chosen to make them look like prisons. Don't be taken in!

Emma L
Past Member 6 months ago

Thank you

Karen K
Karen K6 months ago

Packy at the Portland zoo had TB. They treated Packy for the TB until it became drug resistant. They tried medications for the drug resistant TB and everything available in medications, until the medications were not working at all and Packy couldn't eat. The story that Packy was cast aside when not useful and not treated medically with everything possible just isn't true. This is not to say that zoos aren't a mixed bag. It is sad we have captive animals. It is sad that people don't care about animals unless they maybe have some contact to help them, or that we've destroyed our envirnoment and taken over their habitats so they don't have a place to live.

Ruth S
Ruth S6 months ago