Wildlife Advocates Hold Vigils to Honor Elephants Who Have Died in Captivity

According to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums website, this organization promotes animal welfare, conservation efforts and scientific education. Then why did at least 17 elephants die in AZA-accredited facilities between 2017 and 2018?

The answer, of course, is that elephants don’t belong in zoos. 

To honor these 17 elephants who have died because of captivity-related illness, Elephant Guardians of LA, along with Free the Oregon Zoo Elephants and Friends of Lucy, is holding a candlelight vigil on January 5. 

The vigil in Los Angeles will run from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Elephants die in the wild at around age 70, but in captivity death comes much sooner. One of those who died too soon was Penny, aged 37, who passed away in 2017.

Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles writes:

Penny probably started her day at Riverbanks Zoo, South Carolina, on May 4, 2017 not feeling right. Around 10:30 a.m., as visitors looked on, Penny, one of three African elephants on exhibit at Riverbanks Zoo, stumbled and fell and was unable to get back up. Penny’s herd mates, Robin and Bell, began calling and trumpeting. They went over to Penny who struggled several times to get back up on her feet, and sniffed her, and hung out with her until zoo staff moved them into the barn. Later in the day, officers decided to ‘humanely euthanize” the 37-year-old elephant. Her other herd mate, Petunia, had been euthanized in December.

And this is the story of Maxine, who died in 2018:

We will light a candle for Maxine who was euthanized on November 19, 2018, at the Bronx Zoo, where she was held since 1973. Maxine was 48 years old and suffered from an unnamed progressive illness. The zoo made the decision to euthanize her when she was no longer able to eat. RIP dear Maxine, we remember you.

Here’s the full list of all 17 elephants who died in captivity between 2017 and 2018.

Elephants Don’t Belong in Zoos

The welfare of elephants in zoos is severely compromised by hard or wet flooring, the wrong climate, inappropriate diet and restricted space that deprives the animals of adequate exercise. In the wild, elephants are constantly moving around and may walk up to 5 miles a day.

A captive environment like a zoo also prohibits the social structure elephants need to survive. In their natural state, elephants live in herds which can number up to 50 animals of all ages and sexes, and they develop strong bonds with their family members. Being held in captivity, away from their family group, causes these animals immense distress.


Photo Credit: Care2/YouTube

In Los Angeles, Care2 has been deeply involved in the campaign to “Free Billy,” a 34-year-old Asian elephant who has lived at the Los Angeles Zoo for 30 years. He spends his days away from the zoo’s three female elephants and often bobs his head and rocks back and forth, signs of stress that wild elephants do not exhibit.

If you are moved by Billy’s plight, please join more than 513,000 activists who have signed this Care2 petition urging officials to end Billy’s suffering and send him to a sanctuary immediately.

And if you are in Los Angeles, California; Portland, Oregon; or Edmonton, Canada, on Saturday, January 5, please join in a candlelight vigil to honor the lives of the 17 elephants who have died in captivity in the past two years.

Free the Oregon Zoo Elephants also suggests:

If you are not local to Edmonton, Los Angeles or Portland, we invite you to observe a moment of silence with a candle for the elephants who died in zoos and share photos with us. We would love your support from around the US and the world.

Photo Credit: Sean Habig/Flickr


Richard B
Past Member 2 months ago

Thank you for posting

Linda W
Linda Wallace2 months ago

These magnificent animals do not deserve the treatment we humans subject them to. Let all elephants in captivity go to sanctuarys.

Sara S
Sara S2 months ago

It's not surprising that elephants die young in captivity, considering how unhappy they are. They should never be captured from the wild, where they belong.

Terri S
Terri S2 months ago

It's so sad that the only way to freedom is through death.

Jessica C
Jessica C2 months ago


Marija M
Marija M2 months ago

Elephants should be where they belong, not in the zoo...

Leo C
Leo C2 months ago

Thank you for sharing!

Roslyn McBride
Roslyn McBride2 months ago

Very sad that elephants in captivity die too soon.

Chad A
Chad Anderson2 months ago


Glennis W
Glennis W2 months ago

Great news Thank you for caring and sharing