In Defense of Animals respected annual list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America has exposed suffering and markers of captivity-caused brain damage at accredited zoos which are considered to be the best.

This year’s list draws attention to shocking neuroscientific research that concluded living in unnatural and barren captive environments physically damages elephants’ brains. The #1 worst zoo of 2021 is Edmonton Valley Zoo in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, which has held female Asian elephant Lucy in solitary confinement for the past 15 years. Ricky Gervais and Moby are calling for the elephants to be released to accredited sanctuaries.

“I always felt bad seeing sad animals in zoos, but I had no idea that zoos cause brain damage to elephants,” said decades-long animal activist and musician, Moby. “The list of 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants is a shocking alarm call exposing how elephants are suffering and dying.”

Ricky Gervais, world-renowned animal advocate and celebrity comedian urged, “Elephants are sensitive, emotional, and highly intelligent beings — seeing them suffer mentally and physically behind bars is heartbreaking. Join me and stand with In Defense of Animals against the captivity of elephants in zoos.”

“In the wild, Lucy would have lived her entire life among a matriarchal herd of elephants, and been able to make decisions about her own life. Instead, she’s been confined to a barren enclosure in an unquestionably inappropriate climate, and she’s been all alone in violation of standards set to ensure elephant welfare,” said Brittany Michelson, Captive Animals Campaigner for In Defense of Animals. “Given what we’ve learned about how complex elephants’ minds and social structures are, and how continuing to keep them in zoos is physically harming them to the point of giving them literal brain damage, we hope the number of zoos that are phasing out their exhibits keeps growing. Zoos cause elephant suffering and continuing to keep them captive is reprehensible.”

Both the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA) require groups of at least three elephants. But instead of moving Lucy, the Edmonton Valley Zoo was granted a variance by CAZA, letting it get away with keeping her in isolation. Lucy is also believed to be suffering from numerous serious health issues, but the zoo has continued to refuse to allow an independent veterinarian to examine her.

The zoo also allows free contact with Lucy, even though protected contact is considered best practice, and allows the use of a bullhook to control her through fear and intimidation.

All zoos included in 2021’s 10 Worst Zoos list besides The Preserve are accredited by the AZA or CAZA, yet failing to provide “the highest quality of elephant management and care.” Elephants in all zoos are suffering variously from isolation, inadequate space, premature deaths, and captivity-caused illnesses like zoochosis which is caused by stress and indicates the elephants are bored and frustrated in their impoverished environment. The disease has never been observed in wild elephants.

Shocking neuroscientific research has revealed that all elephants suffer brain damage from captivity. Bob Jacobs, Ph.D., a professor at Colorado College, is lead author of the study which shows how life in unnatural and barren captive environments physically damages elephants’ brains.

“Zoo captivity damages elephant brains. There’s a vast gap between the rich environment nature provides for elephants’ thoughtful brains versus zoo captivity, which is impoverished and robs elephants of their social, mental, and neural needs. Decades of neuroscience research shows that an impoverished brain is a damaged brain. Whether it is the 10 Worst Zoos or the ten best, all zoos are detrimental to elephants’ brains and cause physical and mental suffering,” said Jacobs.

“Year after year, our research finds more ways elephants suffer in zoos,” said Marylin Kroplick, M.D., President of In Defense of Animals. “Keeping elephants in zoos causes brain damage. Zoos imprison elephants for nothing more than profit and entertainment, which is unforgivable. We call on all zoos to commit to phasing out their exhibits and sending their elephants to accredited sanctuaries where they can live a much more natural life.”

10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in 2021:

Edmonton Valley Zoo, Edmonton, Alberta

ABQ BioPark, Albuquerque, N.M.

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Cincinnati, Ohio

Phoenix Zoo, Phoenix, Ariz.

Bronx Zoo, New York City

Oklahoma City Zoo, Oklahoma City, Okla.

Toledo Zoo & Aquarium, Toledo, Ohio

Los Angeles Zoo, Los Angeles, Calif.

Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Fresno, Calif.

Audubon Zoo, New Orleans, La.

Hall of Shame
The Preserve, Fredericksburg, Texas

Dishonorable Mention
Oregon Zoo, Portland, Ore.

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