Activists Continue to Fight For Ruth and Emily, Two Elephants Languishing in a Massachusetts Zoo

Animal advocates have been working for years to help Ruth and Emily, two Asian elephants who have been languishing at the Buttonwood Park Zoo in New Bedford, Mass., but nothing has been done to alleviate their suffering. Now, their advocates have headed to court seeking to have them moved to a sanctuary.

Emily was taken from her family in Thailand as a baby, and has been at the zoo since 1968. Ruth, who was previously used as a performer, arrived in 1986, after being abandoned in a trailer by her owner, who was under investigation for animal abuse.

The two of them do not get along. Emily has continued to show ongoing aggression towards Ruth, attacking and intimidating her, including an incident that involved Emily biting off more than six inches of Ruth’s tail.

In 2016, the zoo was featured on In Defense of Animals‘ (IDA) list of the Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants for the seventh year in a row, earning it the dishonorable distinction of being featured in the Hall of Shame for failing to improve conditions, and refusing to retire Ruth and Emily to a sanctuary.

“Ruth and Emily are suffering horrendously in Buttonwood Park Zoo,” IDA’s President, Dr. Marilyn Kroplick, said at the time. “Forcing two incompatible elephants to live together is dangerous and unethical. Buttonwood is exploiting these elephants, violating their rights, stripping them of their dignity, and submitting Ruth and Emily to disgusting abuses in its barren prison. It is time to button up, Buttonwood – shut down your archaic and barbaric zoo exhibit now and retire Ruth and Emily to a sanctuary where they can live in peace.”

In 2013, the city agreed to close its elephant exhibit once Ruth and Emily die, but problems have been ongoing and waiting around for them to pass is only prolonging their suffering. Their advocates have continued to argue there’s no reason to wait to do the right thing for these two, and now there’s more hope they may get the retirement each of them deserves.

Friends of Ruth and Emily has filed a federal lawsuit ultimately seeking to have Ruth and Emily retired to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, where they’ll be “elephants, not exhibits.”

The organization is arguing that the zoo is violating the Endangered Species Act, which makes it illegal to harm, harrass or take endangered animals, and that the zoo is doing just that by “keeping, confining, exhibiting and so injuring Ruth and Emily.”

The complaint notes numerous heartbreaking problems, including confining them to a small enclosure and even smaller barn with inappropriate floors in an inappropriate climate, where they spend the majority of time indoors in cold weather. The zoo has also interfered with them having normal social interactions with others of their kind, has failed to provide appropriate veterinary care, proper food and enrichment, and has also failed to protect Ruth from Emily’s aggression. According to the complaint. Emily has attacked Ruth at least 36 times between 2005 and 2015, when the zoo stopped keeping track.

As a result of captivity itself, the complaint also notes that they also suffer from psychological and physical issues, including “chronic foot problems, gastric problems, food deprivation, skin problems and other illnesses that may lead to premature death.”

It’s incredibly troubling to see those responsible for the wellbeing of these two elephants refuse an amazing alternative for Ruth and Emily while clinging to the notion that they are fine, when they are clearly not – especially considering all we know about how harmful captivity is in general for these large, far-ranging, intelligent and social animals.

Hopefully the lawsuit will be successful, but the city owns these two elephants, and officials in the meantime have the power to change the future for Ruth and Emily in the best possible way.


Please show your support by signing and sharing the petition urging the New Bedford City Council to do the right thing by immediately taking steps to move them to a sanctuary.

For more on how to help, visit Friends of Ruth and Emily.


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Melania P
Melania Padillaabout a year ago

Magnificent animals like elephants do not belong in a zoo. We have the technology to show animals (not the animals themselves) to children for educational purposes for example. See the first virtual zoo in Gaza

Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

Thank you

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hillabout a year ago

This is why most zoos don't even have an elephant. I know the Richmond Zoo does not. A zoo allows children of all ages to see animals they would otherwise never see.

Erin C
Erin C1 years ago

As a resident of Massachusetts, I've followed the story of Ruth and Emily for a long time. I would love to see them end their days cared for and free at a sanctuary. Signed!

Roslyn M
Roslyn McBride1 years ago

They certainly should be released to an animal sanctuary.

Carole R
Carole R1 years ago

Thanks for posting.

Amanda M
Amanda McConnell1 years ago

Thanks for Sharing

Amanda M
Amanda McConnell1 years ago

Thanks for Sharing

Carl R
Carl R1 years ago


Karen N
Karen N1 years ago

"The soul is the same in all living creatures, although the body of each is different." ~ Hippocrates ~ and no one can dismiss the strong possibility of reincarnation! - SHAME on those that condone, support, participate, spectate and profit in the exploitation and harming of animals in any way whatsoever and SHAME on those in governments and authority for allowing and letting them get away with it, you all not only make life a living hell for animals you make the world a very depressing place causing misery, mental anguish and distress to those of us that empathise with other 'living beings' . . . Who knows?! . . . Another possible lifetime your soul (what little you have) or the soul of someone you care about could reincarnate into the body of one of the poor creatures you have no respect for and suffer the same exploitation and cruel and barbaric fate (in fact for all you know one the poor creatures suffering at this moment could be a reincarnation of someone you once cared about) . . . After all . . . Quote . . . We shouldn't treat other 'living beings' human or animal in a way we wouldn't want to be treated . . . What goes around comes around, if not in this lifetime; any possible future lifetime . . . I would never under estimate Karma!