In Defense of Animals’ respected annual list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America has exposed suffering caused by extreme lack of space, even at zoos which have expanded or updated their exhibits.

Oregon Zoo has been shamed as #1 on the 10 Worst Zoos list for causing more injury and trauma despite adding more space.

Bill Maher, Sarah Silverman, and Jorja Fox are calling for the elephants to be released to accredited sanctuaries.

Discover the list:

Bill Maher, comedian, actor, and television host said, “Elephants lead miserable lives in zoos, and larger exhibits won’t ease their suffering. These majestic animals don’t benefit in any way from being on public display. This list of 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants is truly alarming, and I stand with In Defense of Animals against the captivity of elephants in zoos.”

Sarah Silverman, comedian, actress, and writer, said, “No animal wants to live in a cage. No animal should have to. Elephants have feelings and emotions. They feel love and loss. If you want to see an elephant, go to where they live. Watch documentaries about them. Learn all there is to know. But to put them in cages just for your amusement? That’s dark shit. Join me and stand with In Defense of Animals against the captivity of elephants in zoos.”

Jorja Fox, actress and producer, said, “It’s dishonest of zoos to spend millions on expansions claiming more room for elephants, only to crowd more in. In Defense of Animals’ list of 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants helps expose the shocking truth of elephants suffering in captivity.”

Elephants endure many deprivations in zoos, but the lack of sufficient space is a major contributor to their suffering, as testified to in a new study co-authored by renowned wildlife biologist Dr. Keith Lindsay.

For many years, zoos have touted new “state of the art” elephant exhibits, expanded to provide three or more times the space of their former enclosures. Zoos raise enormous amounts of money to make these expansions: $50 million for the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, and $58 million for the Oregon Zoo are just two recent examples. The sad fact is, expanding elephant enclosures wastes money and wastes elephant lives. It is time to expose the zoo space sham and realize the sooner we confront this reality, the sooner we can end the suffering of captive elephants.

“Zoo exhibit expansions are a sham; more space leads to more elephants, more problems, and ultimately more suffering,” said Courtney Scott, Elephant Consultant for In Defense of Animals. “While added acres may seem like a lot to the casual observer, when you look deeper you see how little, if any, benefit it provides to far-roaming elephants. Elephants need miles to roam, not a few scant acres.”

The bodies and minds of Earth’s largest land mammals have developed over centuries to walk vast distances, seeking water and foraging from scores of varied plant species. Furthermore, expanding elephant exhibits does not save any elephants in the wild. Every elephant imported to a zoo or bred in a zoo lives their entire life in captivity. To imply otherwise is to obscure the truth.

When a zoo expands its elephant space from 1 or 2 acres to 3 or 6 acres, or even 10 like the Tulsa Zoo, it simply increases the problems that elephants face in captivity. Often zoos expand exhibit space so they can import more elephants to the zoo, usually with a plan to breed more elephants. Room added in the expansion shrinks with every new elephant. Deceitful zoos are spending vast funds under the pretense of giving elephants more space… then stuff the exhibit with breeding elephants and their babies who draw in crowds, but die at a shocking rate.

Consider what a few acres is for an elephant. Les O’Brien, a former zoo elephant keeper comments, “that’s like a family living in a room the size of a bathroom for their whole lives.”

“Elephants need vast spaces, way more than any zoo can provide,” said Marilyn Kroplick, M.D., President of In Defense of Animals. “We encourage zoos to look to accredited elephant sanctuaries which respect elephant autonomy, do not breed elephants or put them on public display, and provide hundreds or even thousands of acres for elephants to roam. No zoo can meet an elephant’s basic needs, so we call on all remaining zoos with elephants to commit to phase out their exhibits and send elephants to accredited sanctuaries where they can live a much more natural life.”

10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in 2022

Oregon Zoo, Portland, Ore.

Kansas City Zoo, Kansas City, Mo.

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, Omaha, Neb.

Houston Zoo, Houston, Texas

Fort Worth Zoo, Fort Worth, Texas

Indianapolis Zoo, Indianapolis, Ind.

Zoo Atlanta, Atlanta, Ga.

Tulsa Zoo, Tulsa, Okla.

Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, Kan.

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, Cincinnati, Ohio

Hall of Shame

Fresno Chaffee Zoo, Fresno, Calif.

Dishonorable Mention

Milwaukee County Zoo, Milwaukee, Wis.

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