2019 Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM IDA In Defense of Animals
January 2020

No self-aware, intelligent, highly social and emotional individual desires a life of abject subjugation. It is time for zoos to stop pretending that elephants do not notice their constrained lives.

Please see 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants 2019 (PDF) for images and descriptions of the terrible situations in which these elephants are kept captive.

Elephant Lucy
The Edmonton Valley Zoo has refused to rehome its ailing Asian elephant, Lucy, for many years. She could now be doomed to die in her freezing prison.

 Zoo Domination of Elephants Must End

For elephants, life in a zoo is one of continual domination by humans. Placed on perpetual display in cramped enclosures, deprived of purpose and subjected to endless boredom, unable to choose their mates or friends and often separated from those with whom they have bonded - these defining features of captivity demand the ceaseless bending of elephants' wills to their human captors. The cumulative effects of domination contributes to the physical and psychological trauma that often leads to illness and premature death.

The zoos on this year's 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants list are striking examples of the different ways that zoos harmfully dominate elephants, including separating long-bonded individuals and family members, repeatedly forcibly inseminating females, and condemning others to lives of extremely unnatural solitude. In cold-climate facilities, elephants spend winters shut inside cramped indoor enclosures, many of which force elephants to stand on unyielding concrete which can lead to debilitating foot and leg diseases and even death.

Zoos often downplay animal welfare concerns and conceal their harmful domination of elephants from the public. Through campaigns of misleading advertising and skewed educational programs, zoos frequently depict elephants as content, and pretend that elephants somehow agree to, and even enjoy these living conditions. Yet in reality, captive elephants suffer as many of their needs go unmet.

Physical and psychological harm is virtually unavoidable in zoos’ domination of elephants and is the reason zoos are unable to improve the health and wellbeing of elephants under their control. No amount of space, financial investment or “enrichment” in public display facilities takes away the daily pain that zoo captivity inflicts on elephants.

Fortunately, the public is growing more aware of the inherent cruelty of captivity. The year 2019 saw a number of important developments that have increased elephant protection. The state of California, the city of Cinncinati, Ohio, and the township of Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania passed laws banning the use of elephants and other exotic animals in circuses, and more cities and states are considering similar action. Riverbanks Zoo, a facility listed on a previous 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants list, shut down its elephant exhibit.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) this year finally instituted a bullhook ban, planning to phase out the weapon by 2023. This is a step in the right direction, but it remains unclear whether all facilities will end use of bullhooks entirely since certain AZA member zoos continually violate elephant welfare standards without losing accreditation.

Another encouraging development came with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) ban on the live trade of wild African elephants–something that both the U.S. delegation and the AZA opposed. The decision–if adhered to–will effectively stop the capture and export to zoos in the U.S. and elsewhere.

No self-aware, intelligent, highly social and emotional individual desires a life of abject subjugation. It is time for zoos to stop pretending that elephants do not notice their constrained lives. It is time for the captive animal industry to stop breeding elephants, to phase out exhibits, and to send elephants to sanctuaries accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, which are designed not as exhibits for people, but for the elephants themselves.

Please see 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants 2019 (PDF) for images and descriptions of the terrible situations in which these elephants are kept captive.


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