Top 10 Worst Elephant Experiences in the World

While the owners of zoos and other wild animal tourist attractions may argue that keeping elephants in captivity is helping these animals, that is simply not the case.

In the wild, highly intelligent elephants walk up to 30 miles a day and are extremely social, with large, extended families. On the other hand, in many tourist attractions, elephants spend their lives in small enclosures, often all by themselves. Their bleak living conditions can lead to serious physical problems, such as deadly foot disease and arthritis, as well as psychological problems, like repetitive swaying and head bobbing.

These are among the many reasons why elephants don’t belong in any zoo or circus. More than 40 countries now have laws prohibiting the use of wild animals in circuses and other types of entertainment, and many zoos in the US are starting to close their elephant exhibits.

These are the 10 worst elephant attractions in the world.

Nevertheless, many elephants in captivity continue to live in terrible conditions around the world. Here, ranked in order of their awfulness, are some of the worst of these experiences, along with what you can do to help provide these elephants with better lives. The rankings took into consideration the use of cruel devices to train and punish elephants, like bullhooks, tasers and chains; violations of the Animal Welfare Act; unethical breeding; heavy exploitation; inadequate space; and solitary elephants who showed signs of stress.

1. The Oregon Zoo (Portland, OR – USA)

This Portland facility has the dubious distinction of not only being at the top of our list but also being a regular on IDA’s (In Defense of Animals) annual lists of the worst zoos in the world.

Among many issues, its elephant breeding program has been criticized for selling calves to controversial entertainment companies like Have Trunk Will Travel. It also uses cruel devices called bullhooks – a stick with a sharp hook on one end – to beat elephants into submission. In 2000, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cited the zoo for violating the Animal Welfare Act after an elephant named Rose-Tu was discovered with more than 175 bullhook wounds.

Further, one Borneo pygmy elephant living at the Oregon Zoo, named Chendra, who is the the only one of her species in the U.S., is blind in one eye and shunned by other elephants in captivity. Veterinarians have noted evidence that the zoo has used a bullhook on Chendra multiple times. Care2 is raising funds to put up a billboard in Portland, Oregon demanding that the zoo #FreeChendra. Animal welfare advocates have been trying for years to get Chendra released to a sanctuary. Over 260,000 people have even signed a Care2 petition supporting their efforts.

The Oregon Zoo’s saddest and most infamous claim to fame was Packy, a male Asian elephant born at the zoo in 1962, who spent his 54 years there in captivity, being forced to breed – even with his sisters. Nearly 190,000 people signed a Care2 petition urging the zoo to send Packy to a sanctuary, but the poor elephant never got to know freedom. Packy was euthanized in 2017. Animal activists believe he was killed because he was too old to breed.

Why it’s on Care2′s Worst list: bullhook use, animal welfare violations, unethical breeding, heavy exploitation

Take Action

  • Sign this petition urging the Oregon Zoo to end its elephant breeding program and stop using bullhooks.
  • Join more than 263,000 people who have signed this petition telling the Oregon Zoo to send Chendra the elephant to a sanctuary.
  • Contact them on Twitter to keep the pressure on: @OregonZoo

2. Garden Bros. Circus (Various cities)

In a heartbreaking video posted on Facebook in 2016, a young elephant, covered with bullhook scars, faces a wall and sucks her trunk for comfort as she waits to perform in the Garden Bros. Circus.

It should come as no surprise that the owners of this and other circuses, Richard Garden and his sons Lance, Niles and Zachary, have what the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida referred to as a “sordid history” in its list of troubling circus incidents going back to 1984, which is why Garden Bros. ranks at No. 2 on our list.

In 2017, veterinarian Philip K. Ensley, an elephant expert, published a report noting that two Garden Bros. Circus elephants, Libby and Bunny, “suffer physical injuries, inhabit intolerably restricted spaces and are subjected to a travel and work schedule that is inhumane by any standard.” The previous year, a whistleblower reported seeing the elephants beaten with bullhooks and shocked with tasers.

Why it’s on Care2′s Worst list: bullhook use, taser use, heavy exploitation, inadequate space

Take Action

Please join more than 365,000 people who have signed this Care2 petition telling Garden Bros. to send Baby the elephant to a sanctuary.

3. R.W. Comerford & Sons Traveling Petting Zoo (Various cities)

This zoo, founded over 40 years ago in Connecticut, travels the east coast offering rides on a 49-year-old Asian elephant named Beulah as she is controlled with a bullhook. Its website claims that it’s a “fun, friendly, and safe place to bring your family!”

Animal rights activists disagree. PETA has a long list of instances, dating back to 1989, in which the USDA has cited Comerford & Sons for Animal Welfare Act violations. This history of citations is what ranks Comerford & Sons as the world’s third worst experience for elephants.

“As far as the violations, they’re no different than if the health department was going to [a] restaurant,” zoo owner Tim Comerford said in 2015, insisting that most of the violations were “petty.” Yet among the USDA’s citations were those for poor living conditions, inadequate veterinary care and improper feeding – far more serious than anything a health department would give a restaurant.

Why it’s on Care2′s Worst list: bullhook use, animal welfare violations, heavy exploitation

Take Action

Sign this petition urging Comerford & Sons to send Beulah to a sanctuary.

4. Natural Bridge Zoo Park (Natural Bridge, VA – USA)

Asha is the only elephant among the 40 animals at this roadside zoo in Virginia. When she’s not being forced with a bullhook to give 10,000 rides every year to visitors, Asha lives inside a small paddock with little shade and no toys for stimulation.

Even worse, when the zoo closes for the winter, a USDA inspection found that Asha lives inside a cold, damp barn with a concrete floor. This zoo’s mistreatment of Asha ranks it at No. 4 on our list.

You’d think that such horrid living conditions would lead to the USDA shutting down the Natural Bridge Zoo Park, but that sadly has not been the case. In fact, the zoo has been cited with dozens of violations of the Animal Welfare Act — yet it still remains open.

Why it’s on Care2′s Worst list: bullhook use, solitary elephant, animal welfare violations, inadequate space

Take Action

Please join nearly 350,000 people who have signed this Care2 petition started by Kelly Coldewey of the Facebook group Help Our Precious Elephants (H.O.P.E.) urging the Natural Bridge Zoo Park to send Asha to a sanctuary.

5. Langkawi Elephant Adventures (Langkawi, Malaysia)

A 36-year-old elephant named Lasah was born in the wild but separated from his mother and taken into captivity when he was just a baby. Lasah then spent nearly 40 years in logging camps and zoos. For the past 12 years, he’s lived alone at Langkawi Elephant Adventures, a popular tourist attraction in Malaysia that ranks as No. 5 due to its cruel mistreatment of Lasah.

When Lasah’s not providing elephant rides, his owners rent him out for commercial purposes.

What’s even more disturbing is what happens to Lasah when the park is closed. Members of the animal welfare group Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia discovered that all four of Lasah’s feet are chained, so the poor elephant can’t move.

Why it’s on Care2′s Worst list: chain use, solitary elephant, heavy exploitation

Take Action

  • Friends of the Orangutans Malaysia is working to have Lasah sent to a sanctuary. Join nearly 450,000 people who have signed their petition urging the Malaysian government to make this happen.
  • Sign this petition telling TripAdvisor.com to stop being complicit in elephant abuse by promoting Langkawi Elephant Adventures.

6. Ishikawa Zoo (Nomi, Japan)

For nearly three decades at this zoo in Japan, an elephant named Sunny has lived all alone in a small concrete enclosure that resembles a prison cell, which is what ranks this zoo at No. 6 on our list. What’s especially heartbreaking are the dark marks visible on the walls of Sunny’s indoor cell, which you can see in a video by Elephants in Japan.

“With nothing else to do, Sunny tries to explore the walls with her trunk,” the organization notes. “You can see the extensive rubbing marks on the walls from her doing this over and over, for years and years and years.”

Elephants in Japan is working with the wildlife organization Zoocheck to free Sunny and other elephants living in solitary confinement in the country’s zoos.

Sign this petition to demand a better life for Sunny.

Why it’s on Care2′s Worst list: solitary elephant, inadequate space

Take Action

Please join more than 376,000 people who have signed this petition by Elephants in Japan urging the zoo to send Sunny to a sanctuary.

7. Himeji Park Zoo (Himeji, Japan)

Since 1994, an elephant named Himeko has been forced to live by herself at this zoo and amusement park in Japan. When she’s not being threatened with a bullhook to perform, Himeko faces away from visitors, continuously bobbing her head, swaying back and forth, and beating her tail against her small enclosure’s steel door. All of these are stress coping stereotypical behaviors.

After hours, which is 18 hours every day, Himeko is confined to a tiny, dark, indoor concrete cell with no food or water readily available to her.

To entertain zoo visitors, Himeko is forced to perform tricks like walking in a circle and kneeling to have her head brushed. During a 2017 visit, Dr. Keith Lindsay, an elephant biologist, said Himeko’s living conditions are “substandard and unacceptable.” These conditions earned the zoo the No. 7 spot on our list.

Why it’s on Care2′s Worst list: bullhook use, solitary elephant, inadequate space

Take Action

The organization Elephants in Japan is campaigning to better Himeko’s life. Please sign their petition for Himeko.

8. The Los Angeles Zoo (Los Angeles, CA – USA)

Although the Los Angeles Zoo expanded its original elephant exhibit about a decade ago, its current 6.5 acres is still insufficient space for its four captive elephants to roam, ranking it at No. 8 on our list.

Billy, a male Asian elephant, is kept separated from females Jewel, Tina and Shaunzi in a too-small corral. He frequently bobs his head and rocks back and forth, which are signs of stress. A disturbing 1989 video shows a zoo employee striking Billy with a bullhook. Billy is also used for captive breeding purposes and forced to undergo invasive procedures to remove his semen.

Fortunately for Billy, the L.A. Arts, Entertainment, Parks and River Committee is currently considering a motion by City Councilman Paul Koretz to have the elephant moved to a sanctuary.

Why it’s on Care2′s Worst list: inadequate space, unethical breeding

Take Action

Join more than 440,000 people who have signed this petition telling the Los Angeles Zoo to send Billy the elephant to a sanctuary.

9. Maesa Elephant Camp (Mae Raem, Thailand)

The website for the Maesa Elephant Camp says, “Elephants are our heart,” but elephants really only seem to be money makers for this tourist attraction in Thailand, which is why it ranks at No. 9 on our list.

Previously known as the misleadingly-named Elephant Conservation Center, this facility breeds elephants and forces them to provide rides to visitors. During three performances each day, the elephants use their trunks to throw darts at balloons, paint pictures and perform other unnatural tricks.

“I believed this to be an elephant rehabilitation camp. I was very wrong,” wrote one reviewer on TripAdvisor.com.

Why it’s on Care2′s Worst list: unethical breeding, heavy exploitation

Take Action

Please join nearly 195,000 people who have signed this Care2 petition urging Fodors to stop promoting the Maesa Elephant Camp on their website and in their travel guides.

10. Wildlife Safari, USA

Visitors to this drive-through tourist attraction in Oregon that’s last but not least on our list can sit in their cars during the summer while elephants “wash” their vehicles, using their trunks to hold sponges and hoses.

Wildlife Safari says on its website that its mission “is to provide the highest quality interaction with wildlife to inspire lifelong commitments to conservation, education and preservation of native and exotic species.”

How can an elephant car wash be considered the “highest quality interaction”? Elephants don’t naturally wash cars in the wild. The painful bullhooks used to train and force them to perform unnatural stunts (an employee can be seen holding one in the video below) are cruel. The only lesson being taught is that it’s acceptable to exploit and harm these beautiful animals for profit.

Why it’s on Care2′s Worst list: bullhook use, heavy exploitation

Take Action

Sign this petition telling Wildlife Safari to stop forcing elephants to wash cars.

You can learn more ways to help elephants this Elephant Awareness Month by visiting Care2′s Activist University page.

Photo credit: Alexas_Fotos

83 comments

Lorrie O
Lorrie O9 days ago

Buddhi Ganesh. More danger than danger: drawer. More stranger than stranger: Sawyer. Hong saw, sawyer, saw. The GOPi ought to save the elephant.

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Peggy B
Peggy B2 months ago

Petition signed

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Peggy B
Peggy B2 months ago

Noted

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Leo C
Leo C3 months ago

Thank you for posting!

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ANA MARIJA R
ANA MARIJA R3 months ago

I had signed and shared all petitions at earlier... Thank you.

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Amanda M
Amanda McConnell3 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Amanda M
Amanda McConnell3 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Amparo Fabiana C
Amparo Fabiana C3 months ago

Please treat well and protect this huge beauties. Give him space and kindness.

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Naomi Dreyer
Naomi Dreyer3 months ago

A quote from the Baha'i Faith www.bahai.org
The feelings are one and the same, whether ye inflict pain on man or on beast. There is no difference here whatever. And indeed ye do worse to harm an animal, for man hath a language, he can lodge a complaint, he can cry out and moan; if injured he can have recourse to the authorities and these will protect him from his aggressor. But the hapless beast is mute, able neither to express its hurt nor take its case to the authorities ... Therefore it is essential that ye show forth the utmost consideration to the animal, and that ye be even kinder to him than to your fellow man. Train your children from their earliest days to be infinitely tender and loving to animals. If an animal be sick, let them try to heal it, if it be hungry, let them feed it, if thirsty, let them quench its thirst, if weary, let them see that it rests."

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Georgina Elizab M

I have signed all these petitions.I know a good few people I'd like to use some of these horrific methods on, but definitely not on any animal. I saw a short documentary on NGM of an elephant injured by another elephant dying. After his death, the other members of the pack came to say goodbye.One of the most moving experiences ever. Then you read of cruelty by people who aren't worth anything, who think they are smarter than these intelligent beings.It makes me ashamed to be a human.

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