Top Ten Worst Zoos For Elephants

In Defense of Animals released its 8th annual list of the Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants. Their advocacy for elephants in zoos has called attention to the suffering many of these magnificent creatures endure.

Zoos were rated in three categories: lack of space for elephants to roam, unsuitably cold climates and unnatural living conditions.

“IDA’s Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants list illustrates the many serious problems that condemn elephants to lives of misery in zoos,” said IDA Elephant Campaign Director Catherine Doyle. “These include abnormal repetitive behaviors, hyper-aggression, social isolation, and deadly conditions such as foot and joint disease caused by lack of space and movement.”

“Scientific research has shown us what elephants need: the space to walk miles every day, large families with whom to spend their lives, and rich natural environments,” said Doyle. “Caging elephants in zoo displays is not humane and it is not conservation.”

As a result of IDA’s advocacy the Association of Zoos and Aquariums have established new policies for the treatment of elephants and the closing of elephant displays at Central Florida Zoo and Southwick’s Zoo in Massachusetts.

IDA’s 2011 Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants List:

1. Edmonton Valley Zoo (Alberta, Canada)

Lucy, the Asian elephant who has been at the center of protests to set her free and a lawsuit that may end up in front of the Supreme Court in Canada lives alone in a small habitat in one of the most “inhospitable climates imaginable for an elephant.” This is the second year Edmonton Valley Zoo has appeared on the list.

2. Reid Park Zoo (Tucson, Arizona)

Connie and Shaba are two elephants at the zoo that have a 30 year bond, but Reid Park Zoo will soon separate the two because Connie, who is an Asian elephant doesn’t fit into their new African-themed attraction.

3. Button Park Zoo (Massachusetts)

This zoo called off a multi-million dollar expansion to their elephant display, but Emily and Ruth continue to “languish in their small, outdated exhibit.” They spend at least 15 hours indoors each night and show abnormal behaviors that include rocking and swaying. Last year Emily bit off six inches of Ruth’s tail.

4. Topeka Zoo (Kansas)

Topeka Zoo is facing charges by the USDA for violations to the Animal Welfare Act. The zoo director has made some improvements, but he cannot change the cold climate in Kansas that is not suitable for the elephants. Tembo and Sunda stand on cold concrete floors all winter in a concrete barn. They suffer from foot disease and neurotic behavior.

5. Niabi Zoo (Coal Valley, Illinois)

Elephants Babe and Sophie have a history of chronic foot infections and one of them tested positive for tuberculosis. The zoo is trying to raise $4 million for a new exhibit, but the elephants would still be based in a climate that has freezing winters.

6. St. Louis Zoo (Missouri)

Since appearing on the list last year, two calves born at the zoo were infected with a deadly elephant virus and an adult suffered a miscarriage. St. Louis Zoo has a history of chronic foot disease and due to cold winters the elephants are forced to spend long periods of time indoors stalls.

7. Little Rock Zoo (Arkansas)

When an elephant died last year, IDA urged the zoo to close its exhibit instead of getting a new buddy for remaining Ellen. Little Rock did not listen to professionals and purchased two elephants that were retiring from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The elephants were not compatible and Ellen died less than a month after the new elephants’ arrival.

8. Columbus Zoo (Ohio)

Columbus Zoo made a critical error last year when they shipped a seven-year-old male named Bodhi to the Denver Zoo instead of letting him stay with his mother. Elephants live with their mother until they are teens. The move was unnatural and stressful for Bodhi.

9. Wildlife Safari (Winston, Oregon)

This zoo made the list for turning its elephants, Alice and George into an “elephant car wash.” Visitors to the park were able to pay to have the elephants spray water onto their vehicles and wipe down the cars with sponges. The elephants were controlled with steel bullhooks throughout the performances.

10. Honolulu Zoo (Hawaii)

Honolulu recently finished a $12 million elephant exhibit that is “so small it’s already out of date.” Two female elephants have less than an acre of space to roam. The zoo also plans to acquire a bull elephant and introduce an artificial insemination breeding program even though one of the elephants is beyond the natural age for conceiving. The zoo director disputed Honolulu’s number 10 spot. Director Manuel Mollinedo said, “Elephants Mari and Vaigai are happy in their new home and that their muscle tone has improved.”

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Photo from lazurite via flickr.


W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Thank you.

William C
William Cabout a year ago


Nickihermes Celine
Past Member 4 years ago

all zoos should be closed,thank you for sharing 9/7

Duane B.
.4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Barbara J.
Barbara J4 years ago

There are many great zoos but none have achieved the positive worldwide reputation of the Columbus Zoo, arguably America’s favorite. While the zoo has been open continuously since 1927, its reputation grew to such heights under direction of the amiable Jack Hanna, one the America’s most beloved animal experts. Under Hanna’s guidance, the quality of the Columbus Zoo was elevated considerably, making it what is considered today to be the aspiration of any traditional zoo.

Terry V.
Terry V5 years ago


Manuela B.
Manuela B5 years ago

Why can't the government step in???? Oh i know it's about money....people are so cruel.

Alton S.
Alton S.5 years ago

I wish the Columbus Zoo would have not got rid of Bodhi either, I remember when he was born, same year as my first child, and it was always neat, going there, and seeing how the two aged together. Now we won't see him, unless we travel to Denver, which is unlikely.

Rose Balcom
Rose Balcom5 years ago

Wild elephants are the epitamy of freedom and should not be locked up ever!

Pinke A.
Pinke A5 years ago

Things like these,must make us all feel so ashamed!We as people are the reason for this suffering!