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Lucy's Veterinarian Passes Away

posted 5 Jan 2015, 11:08 by Rob Laidlaw

Man who tended to Lucy the elephant dies

By , Edmonton Sun

First posted: Saturday, May 03,

A man who fought vigorously against animal rights activists who wanted to see Lucy the Elephant moved to an animal sanctuary, has died.

Doctor Milton Ness, a chief veterinarian at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, passed away last week.

The Valley Zoo Development Society confirmed Ness’ passing on Facebook Saturday afternoon.

“We would like to acknowledge the loss of an important member of our Edmonton Valley Zoo family. Dr. Milton Ness, a passionate and dedicated friend to all animals,” the statement read.

“Our thoughts are with his family and all of his co-workers at this difficult time. He will be greatly missed.”

But like some of his endeavours, that post attracted some negative comments, primarily linked to his fight to keep Lucy in Edmonton.

Ness has been a vocal proponent of keeping the pachyderm in our city -- she’s been here for most of her 37-years -- as he says the move to a sanctuary in the Southern United States would likely kill her.

The Society quickly put a stop to the negativity, saying “using this post to further you personal agenda, cause grief to the family and friends of a man who was respected, loved and dedicated his life to animals is unacceptable.”

Others however noted how much Ness had touched their lives in his career that spanned some 30 odd years.

“So sorry to hear this,” wrote Judy Dehoog. “He was our first veterinarian many years ago. His passion for Edmonton’s animals will truly be missed.”

Ness graduated from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine in Saskatoon in 1982.

He came to the Valley Zoo as a full time vet back in 2007 -- after studying at the University of Saskatchewan and getting his start working on bison and elk at a rural clinic.

In 2012, Ness was honoured by the Alberta Veterinarian Medical Association for his exceptional communication with Edmonton residents.

The city was unable to comment on what will happen with future care of Lucy and other zoo animals while they work to find a replacement.

Debate Over Lucy Rages On

posted 29 Oct 2013, 10:41 by Rob Laidlaw

Moving elephant would endanger its health, city officials argue

Otiena Ellwand, Edmonton Journal, Monday, October 28, 2013

The debate surrounding the Valley Zoo's lone elephant is back in the spotlight after the Toronto Zoo successfully transported its three elephants to a sanctuary in California last weekend.

A local animal-rights organization staged a protest Sunday at the west-end zoo to demand the city convene a panel of experts to examine Lucy the Asian elephant and reassess whether it's safe enough to move her. The group says elephants are social by nature and shouldn't be kept alone or live in a climate like Edmonton's.

"I'd like to ask city council to look to Toronto," said Stacie Leppky, a board member with Voice for Animals Humane Society. "Everyone in Canada is moving their elephants and they need to step up and do something," At the beginning of September, the Calgary Zoo transported its one male elephant to a zoo in Florida and plan to move its three female elephants to a zoo in Washington, D.C. this spring.City of Edmonton spokesman Jason Darrah said Lucy has respiratory problems that make it difficult for her to breathe when she's in stressful situations, and moving her would exacerbate that.

"Based on third-party scientific review and veterinary care, we have been advised that Lucy is well adjusted and has some manageable health issues, however moving her would cause her serious health risks and would likely kill her," Darrah said Sunday.

Those visiting the zoo Sunday morning had to walk past about 30 protesters to get inside and were reluctant to talk about the issue. Protesters stood by holding signs with slogans such as Nightmare at the Zoo, Free Lucy and Boo Hoo Zoo.

Visitor Jessica Hogan said she believes that at 38, Lucy is too old to be moved. "She has to stay where she is. She has too many health issues."

Hazel Roy, who attends the zoo regularly, pondered how the protesters would respond should Lucy die during transport.

"How would everyone here feel? Would they blame the zoo?" Tove Reece, executive director of Voice for Animals Humane Society, responded to Roy's comment by saying, "If that should happen, I would say life here is worse."

While the group does not want any harm to come to Lucy, it challenges the findings of Dr. James Oosterhuis, the elephant expert the city hired in 2009 and 2012, who determined that moving Lucy would be life-threatening.

"If a group of experts came in and said it's too dangerous to move her, we'd back off," Reece said. "We don't want to send her to a certain death."

Darrah said as part of the zoo's ongoing care of all animals, "we regularly bring in other experts ... to support our veterinarian with his work."

The Valley Zoo doesn't plan on housing any more elephants after Lucy.

In 2007, a 25-year-old African elephant living at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage was transferred to California after much debate.

3 Calgary Zoo elephants moving to Washington, DC

posted 29 Oct 2013, 10:33 by Rob Laidlaw

Female Asian elephants will be relocated to the Smithsonian's National Zoo in the U.S. capital

CBC News Posted: Aug 20, 2013 2:11 PM MT

The Calgary Zoo is sending its remaining elephants to a facility in Washington, D.C.

Next spring Kamala, Swarna and Maharani will head to the Smithsonian's National Zoo.

They will be reunited with a couple of elephants that two of them lived with at an orphanage in Sri Lanka more than 30 years ago.

Donald Moore, an official with Smithsonian's, says they'll be studying them to see if the elephants remember each other and how they'll react.

"We think they'll remember each other, and we are in conversation about how to study that along with some university researchers in psychology and communications," he said. "So it's going to be a very exciting time for these elephants in Washington, D.C."

The zoo announced earlier this summer that its lone male Asian elephant, Spike, will be moved to the Busch Gardens zoo in Tampa, Fla., later this year.

Zoo officials said they did an extensive international search and this accredited facility met their stringent criteria to take care of the three female elephants.

The move was made in the best interest of the animals and not because of recent flood damage to the zoo, according to officials.

The decision to move the animals was made last April because the island that houses the zoo cannot accommodate a large herd, and elephant welfare is better served by being part of a larger social group.

The Elephant in the Room on the fifth estate

posted 12 Nov 2012, 14:52 by Rob Laidlaw

Visit the fifth estate website

A no nonsense look at the keeping of elephants in zoos, with a focus on the plight of Lucy at the Edmonton Valley Zoo and the three surviving elephants at the Toronto Zoo.


In the trade they call elephants Charismatic Mega Fauna -- huge majestic animals that help the industry draw millions of people each year. The fact is that Zoos and Aquariums are big business, generating more revenue than all professional sports leagues in the U.S. and Canada combined, according to industry insiders. Yet all is not well with the gentle giants in Canadian zoos. A heated controversy has erupted over what to do with zoo elephants when they are ready to retire.

This week on the fifth estate, Bob Mckeown looks at the bitter fight over elephants in captivity and what zoos will do to keep them. Weighing in on this controversy are Hollywood stars like Bob Barker and William Shatner, who are out to rescue aging elephants from Canada's cold climes and move them to an animal sanctuary in Northern California where they can peacefully live out their lives.

"Canada is a wonderful place and I love Canadians. I loved them on the The Price is Right and I love the country. But it ain't no place for elephants." says Bob Barker, former host of The Price is Right and animal activist.

Cold climates, tight enclosures, little exercise -- it's a far cry from the vast hot expanses of elephants' natural environments. Battle lines have been drawn from Edmonton to Toronto with zoos facing off against experts who say a cage is no place for these gigantic yet graceful giants. Could Canada's elephants be the beginning of the end for the world's zoos?

Top court won't hear Lucy the elephant case

posted 26 Apr 2012, 08:02 by Rob Laidlaw   [ updated 26 Apr 2012, 08:04 ]

NOTE: Today, the Supreme Court of Canada said it will not hear the case regarding Lucy the elephant. Once again, the City of Edmonton and the Valley Zoo get lucky and avoid being put in a position where they actually have to defend their multitude of nonsensical claims about Lucy. Despite the ruling, the campaign to relocate Lucy will proceed full steam ahead.


Top court won't hear Lucy the elephant case


Lucy the elephant appears to be staying put after a ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday that it will not hear a case regarding her future.

The court rejected an application to hear the case between animal-rights activists, who want the elephant moved, and the City of Edmonton, which owns the Edmonton Valley Zoo where Lucy lives.

Lucy's plight has been in the spotlight for years, with several celebrities publicly calling for her relocation, including former The Price is Right host Bob Barker, ex-NHL enforcer George Laraque and William Shatner.

Activists, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Zoocheck Canada, launched a lawsuit in 2010, asking the court to declare the zoo's lone elephant was in distress. They said Lucy should be moved to a warmer climate where she could be around other elephants.

The zoo has said the 36-year-old Asian elephant is in no condition to move due to a respiratory condition.

"Moving Lucy would be life-threatening and this is a risk that we cannot and will not take," the zoo said in a recent statement.

But activists disagree and say Lucy's living conditions at the Edmonton Valley Zoo are exacerbating her ailments.

"Her health, in fact, is the reason she must be moved," said Julie Woodyer, campaign director for Zoocheck Canada.

"She continues to decline there and, if she's not moved, she'll die."

The Edmonton Humane Society investigated and, in early 2011, declared Lucy was being adequately cared for at the zoo.

Woodyer said Zoocheck will not end its campaign to move the elephant, however.

"We're not going to give up on Lucy," she said.

The Edmonton Valley Zoo moved their African elephant, Samantha, to a breeding program at the North Carolina Zoo in 2007.

Valley Zoo Comments on Calgary Decision to Move Elephants

posted 20 Apr 2012, 14:38 by Rob Laidlaw

Note: Below is the statement from the Valley Zoo regarding Lucy. Nothing at all new. The Valley Zoo continues to claim that Lucy is unable to be moved due to a "mysterious" health condition that still, after all these years, they cannot diagnose.  The Valley Zoo also reiterates their intention to cease the keeping of elephants at their facility but, at the same time, state that they are committed to forcing Lucy to remain at their zoo, where she lives an impoverished, solitary life.


Calgary Zoo and Edmonton Valley Zoo Both Making Decisions in Best Interest of Their Elephants

April 19, 2012

Edmonton Valley Zoo Director responds to Calgary Zoo elephant announcement

Edmonton Valley Zoo Director Denise Prefontaine released the following statement in response to Calgary Zoo officials announcing its long-term plan to relocate its elephants to another accredited facility:

“The Edmonton Valley Zoo supports the decision by our colleagues at the Calgary Zoo to develop a long-term plan for moving their elephants to a larger facility with a larger herd. Their position to eventually not house elephants is consistent with the previously announced decision of the Edmonton Valley Zoo.

Zoos are stewards of living, breathing animals and must be committed to the best interests of the individual animals. We firmly believe this, and as such support the Calgary Zoo for the careful long-term process they have made a commitment to follow.

Moving elephants can cause great stress to the animals, so deciding if and when to move elephants must be done carefully and thoughtfully and be based on what is right for the individual elephant.

The Edmonton Valley Zoo followed a thoughtful decision-making process before moving Samantha, the zoo’s African elephant, to become part of a breeding herd at the North Carolina Zoo in 2007. Our remaining Asian elephant Lucy is a calm and well-adjusted animal with a challenging and unique medical condition. Lucy has a respiratory condition which precludes any thought of placing her in a stressful situation, such as transporting her and/or placing her with unfamiliar caregivers or in an unfamiliar environment.

Moving Lucy would be life-threatening and this is a risk that we cannot and will not take.

So while the long-term goal of the Edmonton Valley Zoo – like the long-term goal of the Calgary Zoo – is to not have elephants, the current priority is Lucy’s health and overall well-being. The City of Edmonton and the Edmonton Valley Zoo will continue to make decisions in the best interest of Lucy. She will remain in Edmonton where we are committed to ensuring she will receive the most appropriate and best care possible.”

Who Will Speak for Lucy the Elephant (March 28, 2012)

posted 28 Mar 2012, 07:46 by Rob Laidlaw

Globe and Mail (Opinion Editorial)

“I’m the Lorax who speaks for the trees!”

Long before there was a hit movie, children could remember reading Dr. Seuss’s story of The Lorax, about a determined orange creature who made them wonder whether anyone would speak for the trees. Back in the world of non-fiction, the Supreme Court of Canada is now being asked to consider whether anyone can speak for Lucy.

Lucy, a 35-year-old Asian elephant, was captured as a baby in Sri Lanka in 1977 and has been captive at the Edmonton Valley Zoo ever since. For 18 years, she had the company of an African elephant named Samantha, but in 2007, Samantha was sent to another zoo on a long-term breeding loan. Lucy now lives alone, and she is suffering.

Elephants are highly social and very intelligent, with complex physical, psychological and social needs. They require very large spaces, variegated natural terrain, pasture, lots of things to do and a moderate climate. Wild female elephants spend their entire lives in relatively stable family groups with their mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins and even their grandmothers.

Lucy is in solitary confinement. Prematurely aged because of her captivity, she suffers from health problems that the zoo has been unable to resolve. She lives in a small, barren enclosure, and she must endure Edmonton’s cold winters, confined indoors to even smaller concrete and rubber quarters when she’s not on display. Lucy has been offered a home at the highly respected California sanctuary where the Toronto Zoo’s three elephants will soon be retiring. The City of Edmonton, which owns the Valley Zoo, won’t let her go.

The local humane society won’t enforce the laws that are supposed to protect Lucy. Yet, as the law stands, nobody else is allowed to speak for her or to assert her interests in any formal way. She needed a good lawyer. Two animal protection organizations – Zoocheck Canada and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – and a resident of Edmonton hired one, Clayton Ruby. They brought an application in court for a declaration that the City of Edmonton is violating provincial zoo standards. Those standards prohibit keeping an animal in distress, and they specifically proscribe keeping female elephants alone.

The Alberta courts dismissed the case without considering its merits. The majority of the Court of Appeal said letting Lucy speak, or letting someone speak on her behalf, is unnecessary, contrary to precedent and should not be allowed.

But Chief Justice Catherine Fraser wrote a thoughtful and powerful dissent. It’s the most important legal development for animals in Canadian judicial history. She gave serious consideration to Lucy’s plight, and stressed that, when government refuses to abide by existing laws, it’s important for the rule of law that someone be able to bring an injustice before a court.

The Supreme Court is now considering whether it will hear Lucy’s case. The central issues before the court are not only Lucy’s right to justice but the right of Canadian citizens to have their laws respected and to go to court if the government itself doesn’t obey the law.

After reviewing the uncontroverted evidence of several experts, Chief Justice Fraser concluded that the evidence “packs a powerful punch. It holds up a mirror for all to see – provided one is prepared to look into the mirror. What it reveals is a disturbing image of the magnitude, gravity and persistence of Lucy’s ongoing health problems and the severity of the suffering she continues to endure from the conditions in which she has been confined. And it also exposes who is responsible for those conditions and that suffering.”

There’s still time for Canada’s judicial system to right this wrong. Lucy’s story could yet have a happy ending. In The Lorax, the trees were saved because someone spoke for them. Will the Supreme Court let someone speak for Lucy?

Lesli Bisgould is an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto’s law faculty and author of Animals and the Law.

Lucy gets room to exercise in winter, activists aren’t impressed (February 13, 2012)

posted 13 Feb 2012, 09:39 by Rob Laidlaw


By Jeremy Jagodzinski

Life for Lucy the elephant is a bit better now that she’ll be exercising inside if it’s too cold outdoors, but those fighting to relocate her remain unsatisfied.

The Edmonton Valley Zoo had committed to improving upon the physical spaces available to its elephant before the new year in response to suggestions made by Edmonton’s Humane Society.

“On the rare days when the weather dictates she can’t walk around the grounds, like last week for instance, she does exercise in a climate controlled animal care structure,” said Debi Winwood, communications officer at the zoo in regards to mid-January’s plunge to -35 C.

“It’s new this winter and it responds to the Edmonton Humane Society’s recommendation to ensure that Lucy can exercise all year round.”

Only 100 metres behind Lucy’s pen, north of the Saito Interpretive Centre, the large grey oval structure is an open area 80 by 50 feet wide and stands 28 feet tall.

Features include insulated walls, a soft sand floor and a skylight to let in natural light. Because of its generic design, any animal can have their specific needs met to exercise despite low temperatures.

This means that cold weather will no longer prevent Lucy from taking the three walks she needs each day to help her lose the excess weight she carries.

The zoo has also refurbished Lucy’s smaller indoor home with thick matting for comfort and warmth as well as plenty of sand to lie on.

Nonetheless, such efforts make little difference to those who disapprove of the zoo’s guardianship of Lucy.

“There’s a number of things going against them,” said Gert Zagler, founder of the Friends of Lucy group. “Lucy’s originally from Sri Lanka and as the temperature falls quite low she can’t go outside. There’s a space issue: there just isn’t the terrain, the enrichment for her to thrive.”

Each side evaluates Lucy’s access to space and protection from cold differently because they disagree as to where Lucy should be housed during her later years.

“Lucy continues to do well,” said Winwood. “She’s 36 years old, so she’s content and well-adjusted and her health is stable.”

But just like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), which has been fighting the zoo in the courts, Zagler wants to have Lucy moved to a large elephant sanctuary in the U.S. to live with others of her kind.

“If an elephant is a herd animal and thrives in more temperate climates, how can you argue that California wouldn’t be a better place for Lucy?” said Zagler.

Another group called In Defense of Animals recently ranked the Valley Zoo the worst in North America in its annual list of the “10 Worst Zoos for Elephants.” Although it’s an unofficial list, results were based on lack of space, frigidity of the climate and the quality of living space.

The city disputes the criticism.

“The city of Edmonton takes great exception to the continued misinformation of the care Lucy receives at the Valley Zoo,” said Winwood. “She receives excellent care here and the Valley Zoo complies with all applicable regulatory and legislative standards.”

President of the Voice for Animals Humane Society in Edmonton and PETA’s co-plaintiff against the zoo, Tove Reece, says she’s as concerned for Lucy’s mental health as she is for her physical well-being.

“Some kind of tent or whatever they’ve set up down there is just not enough,” said Reece. “The thing is that in the summer she can go outside and walk around her enclosure, but she doesn’t do it, she just stands still… I just think she’s lonely and bored.”

This past fall, Reece, PETA and Zoocheck had petitioned the Supreme Court to review the decision made by the Court of Appeal to dismiss their case. But there’s no indication of how long they’ll be waiting on an answer.

In the meantime, Reece will continue her fight in other ways.

“We will probably keep up doing some protests,” said Reece. “But I’m hoping at some point we can approach the city councillors again to see if there’s anybody there who might be open [to help].”

For those wanting to know more about Lucy and how the Valley Zoo addresses her specific needs, the Edmonton Valley Zoo offers 20-minute “Elephant Talks” every Sunday until Feb. 26 and again on Saturdays and Sundays from March 3 to April 29 at 11 a.m.

Sanctuary Song Fundraiser for Elephants (January 19, 2012)

posted 19 Jan 2012, 07:57 by Rob Laidlaw

Attend the Dora award- winning benefit performance of Theatre Direct's Sanctuary Song on February 11, 2012, 7 pm at the Wychwood Theatre at the Barns, 76 Wychwood Avenue, Toronto. Tickets (regular/$50, patron/$100) are now available from Zoocheck.
Sanctuary Song is inspired by the amazing true story of Sidney, a wild caught Asian elephant and her journey from captivity to freedom in an elephant sanctuary. The music and set are hauntingly beautiful and the story is heartwarming.
This event is to celebrate the decision to relocate Toronto's elephants Toka, Thika,and Iringa to PAWS Sanctuary in California! Proceeds go to assisting captive and wild elephants.
Terrific silent auction items will be featured, including tickets to the play War Horse, drawings by Bob Barker, autographed book & private visit to Charlie Pachters home/studio, a day at PAWS Sanctuary, two Hot Docs film festival 20 ticket packages, Georg Jensen accessories, interior designer, photo shoot, Terronis restaurant certificate, professional organizer, jewlery, sports tickets and much more.

IDA Names Valley Zoo Worst for Elephants (Janauary 2012)

posted 19 Jan 2012, 07:43 by Rob Laidlaw

2011 Top Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants

In Defense Of Animals Releases 2011 "Ten Worst Zoos For Elephants" List.

San Rafael, Calif. (January 16, 2012) - The 2011 list of the Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants, released today by In Defense of Animals (IDA), once again exposes the hidden suffering of elephants in zoos, where lack of space, unsuitably cold climates and unnatural conditions condemn Earth’s largest land mammals to lifetimes of deprivation, disease and early death. The list is in its eighth year.

A promising trend toward the closure of inadequate elephant displays continued in 2011 and includes zoos that have appeared on IDA's annual list. The most recent are the Central Florida Zoo and the Southwick’s Zoo (Mass.). The Toronto Zoo’s appearance on the 2009 list sparked a campaign that has led to the closure of that exhibit in 2012. This brings the number of zoos that have closed or will close their elephant exhibits to 22, and zoo experts report that the number is expected to rise.

Another result of IDA's relentless advocacy for elephants in zoos has been the creation of an historic management policy by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) that calls for an end to handling that requires keepers to share the same unrestricted space with elephants. If the AZA is serious about enforcing this policy, it will pave the way for an end to the use of the bullhook, a weapon used by keepers to threaten and to often inflict painful physical punishment.

"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."

IDA's 2011 Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants List:

Top Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants - 20111. Edmonton Valley Zoo (Alberta, Canada) – Solitary misery. Things couldn't get much worse for Asian elephant Lucy who is confined all alone in a tiny exhibit, despite the profoundly social nature of elephants. As a result of keeping her in one of the most inhospitable climates imaginable for an elephant, Lucy suffers foot disease – the leading cause of death for elephants in zoos - and a chronic respiratory problem. Despite a lawsuit that may end up in front of the Supreme Court of Canada in 2012 and worldwide calls for Lucy's release to a natural-habitat sanctuary in a much warmer climate, the Edmonton Zoo selfishly keeps her alone and in distress. This is the Edmonton Valley Zoo's second appearance on the list, up from the number two spot last year.
See: Video of Lucy painting to entertain zoo customers

Top Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants - 20112. Reid Park Zoo (Tucson, Arizona) – You can't get more cold-hearted than this. This zoo has a cruel plan to separate Connie and Shaba, who have been tightly bonded for 30 years. Why? Because Connie, who is Asian, does not fit into the zoo's new African-themed attraction. African Shaba will remain, though if she doesn't integrate with the breeding group coming from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, she'll be sent to another zoo. Zoos often separate bonded elephants, causing profound suffering, and ship them between zoos like furniture. The Reid Park Zoo prefers to ignore the reams of scientific research attesting to the deep and often life-long connections that female elephants form in favor of driving up attendance and revenue. The Reid Park Zoo makes IDA's list for the second time.
See: Video of Connie and Shaba together.

Top Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants - 20113. Buttonwood Park Zoo, (Massachusetts) – Lack of space breeds contempt. A controversial, multi-million dollar zoo expansion plan was pronounced "dead on arrival," but elephants Emily and Ruth continue to languish in their small, outdated exhibit that even the zoo director, an elephant expert, admits is unacceptable for them. They spend at least 15 hours indoors nightly, and even more time inside during the cold, icy winters, resulting in painful chronic foot disease, severe arthritis and chronic pressure sores. These elephants display abnormal behaviors, including neurotic swaying and rocking and hyper-aggression. In 2006, Emily bit off six inches of Ruth's tail, and Ruth has been aggressive toward keepers. The zoo should invest in upgrading its many other dilapidated exhibits, and let Emily and Ruth live out their lives at a sanctuary. This is the zoo's second appearance on the list.

Top Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants - 20114. Topeka Zoo (Kansas) – The elephants in the room. This zoo faces formal charges by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for willful violations of the Animal Welfare Act between April 2007 and July 2011, including providing "minimally appropriate husbandry" for the elephants and failure to inspect their feet as frequently as necessary during a four-month period. Though zoo director Brendan Wiley has been striving to make improvements, in order for this zoo to truly change it must address the plight of elephants Tembo and Sunda, who are living in shamefully inadequate conditions. Lack of space and standing indoors all winter has caused foot problems in both elephants, especially Sunda, who suffers chronic foot disease that can quickly turn deadly. Both elephants neurotically sway and rock. How many more winters can Tembo and Sunda survive confined in their tiny concrete barn? IDA hopes it won't take the death of an elephant to get this zoo to do the right thing and close its elephant exhibit. This is the fourth time that the Topeka Zoo appears on IDA's list.

See: Elephants at Topeka Zoo exhibiting stereotypic behavior

Top Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants - 20115. Niabi Zoo (Coal Valley, Illinois) – Nothing to brag about. This small zoo brags that it is the only facility with elephants in Illinois, but it should be ashamed of the grossly inadequate conditions in which it keeps them. Elephants Babe and Sophie have a history of painful chronic foot infections, and one of the elephants had a positive reaction on a blood test for tuberculosis, a serious disease that is transmissible to humans and other elephants. The zoo is trying to raise $4 million to construct a new exhibit that still would be too small to meet the elephants' immense needs. And the elephants would continue to spend the duration of the long, freezing winters inside a cramped barn. Given the possible presence of an infectious disease, it would not be wise to bring in another elephant. Zoo visitors and the animals would be better served if the zoo ended its elephant program and invested its resources in upgrading other exhibits. This is the Niabi Zoo's second appearance on the list.

See: Video of elephants in tiny, inadequate exhibit

Top Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants - 20116. St. Louis Zoo (Missouri) – Everything that can go wrong. This zoo has so many problems IDA is recalling it from the Hall of Shame to feature it again on the list. In 2011, new calf Kenzi failed to make a public appearance for three months after her birth, and gained a mere 80 pounds during that time. This raised a red flag. as her mother, Rani, had attacked and rejected her previous calf. The zoo also started treating 40-year-old Donna for tuberculosis, a disease found in captive elephants; the entire elephant group was likely exposed to this deadly disease. Since this zoo last appeared on the list two calves were infected with a deadly elephant virus and Ellie suffered a miscarriage; a history of chronic foot disease and arthritis due to the inadequacy of the tiny exhibit first landed St. Louis on the list. The small amount of space the zoo plans to add can't make up for the long, cold Midwest winters during which the elephants spend long stretches of time in concrete stalls. Despite miserable conditions and the danger of spreading infectious diseases to even more elephants, the zoo continues its breeding program.

Top Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants - 20117. Little Rock Zoo (Arkansas) – Two's not a crowd. After the death of Mary in 2011, IDA urged the zoo not to seek a cage-mate for remaining elephant Ellen but to instead close its outdated exhibit and send Ellen to a spacious, natural-habitat sanctuary. Instead, the zoo recklessly rushed in two older elephants acquired from the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus - even though Ellen and one of the elephants were predictably incompatible – in order to meet the required AZA minimum of three elephants. Ellen died less than a month later, and the zoo found itself with two elephants and again out of compliance. With a shortage of elephants in zoos, it's only a matter of time before this zoo is forced to end its elephant program. It should save Little Rock taxpayers some money and the elephants a lot of misery by ending its elephant program now. This is the Little Rock Zoo's first appearance on the list.

See: New elephants at Little Rock Zoo, a month before Ellen's death

Top Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants - 20118. Columbus Zoo (Ohio) – No way to treat a star. Seven-year-old Bodhi, who was shipped to the Denver Zoo in November, quickly fell from star attraction to just another unwanted male elephant in a zoo world that favors females and crowd-attracting calves but is unprepared to house the more powerful and dangerous males. When moving Bodhi, this zoo outrageously implied that his relocation paralleled elephant life in nature. Had the zoo done its homework, it would have known that if Bodhi had been born in the wild, he would have lived with his doting mother and family until he was a teenager. The Columbus Zoo obviously needs a refresher course on the wealth of scientific research that shows just how unnatural life is for elephants in tiny zoo exhibits, especially male calves like Bodhi who are forced to leave their mothers well before it is time. This is the first time the Columbus Zoo appears on IDA's list.

9. Wildlife Safari (Winston, Oregon) – This zoo's a circus! Wildlife Safari made IDA's list for the first time last year because of its "elephant car wash" gimmick, in which the elephants spray water onto paying customers' vehicles and wipe them with sponges. The zoo topped itself this year by hosting events that featured elephants Alice and George "dancing," wearing berets and entertaining the public in a circus-like atmosphere, with the idea that this is supposed to somehow teach people to respect and care about elephants. All the time, the elephants are controlled through use of the sharp steel bullhook - a device used to threaten, and often deliver, painful physical punishment. The new AZA policy against keepers sharing the same unrestricted space with elephants should end these undignified activities that turn elephants into objects of entertainment and do nothing to promote conservation or a better understanding of their true natures.
See: Story about elephant wine stomp with video of show

10. Honolulu Zoo (Hawaii) – Missed by a mile. This zoo recently completed a $12 million elephant exhibit expansion that is so small it’s already out of date. It provides less than an acre of space for elephants Mari and Vaigai, at a time when other AZA zoos are building exhibits three or more acres in size. The zoo plans to introduce a male elephant for breeding purposes, even though Mari is beyond breeding age and Vaigai has previously failed to conceive through artificial insemination. This would unfairly cut the amount of space available to Mari and Vaigai in half. After living in a closet-sized display for so many years, these elephants deserve to have the entire exhibit space. The zoo should forget about acquiring a bull elephant, especially as males are far more dangerous and difficult to house, and focus on providing the best life possible for Mari and Vaigai. This is the Honolulu Zoo's third appearance on IDA's list.

Dishonorable Mention: San Diego Zoo Safari Park (California) – Baby elephant mill. Reckless breeding practices have overpopulated an already too-small exhibit and resulted in the death of a female elephant named Umoya, who was killed by another elephant. But this "baby elephant mill" will continue to produce as many calves as possible in order to stock inadequate zoo exhibits around the country - even though the zoo has single-handedly aggravated the critical problem of surplus males in captivity by producing eight males calves in the last eight years. As a result, bonded females and their male calves will be traumatically separated from other mother-calf pairs and sent to other zoos; later, the males will be taken from their mothers and sent to yet another zoo in a never-ending cycle of misery.

Worst Zoos for Elephants – Hall of Shame

IDA's announces a new inductee to the Worst Zoos for Elephants Hall of Shame – a special category for repeat offenders that have made little or no progress improving conditions for elephants. Past Hall of Shame inductees include Dickerson Park Zoo (Missouri), El Paso Zoo (Texas), and Six Flags Discovery Kingdom (California).

San Antonio Zoo (Texas) - This zoo remains intransigent in its selfish desire to keep elephants, Lucky and Boo, on display. Given all that we know about elephants and their great physical, social and psychological needs, it should be ashamed to keep these two elephants in such a tiny, outdated exhibit. Making problems worse is that they don't get along, creating a stressful, unhealthy and dangerous situation. In 2010, the San Antonio Zoo was named one of the worst zoos in the world because of its treatment of elephants, and there is nothing to indicate that anything will soon change for Lucky and Boo.

See: Watch video of Lucky avoiding Boo (Queenie) and again here (while Boo sways).


See a list of all the zoos inducted into IDA's Worst Zoos for Elephants Hall of Shame.

Click here to visit IDA's Worst Zoos for Elephants Hall of Shame – a special category for repeat offenders that have made little or no progress improving conditions for elephants.

In Defense of Animals issues its Top Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants list annually. IDA is an international animal rescue and advocacy organization based in San Rafael, CA.



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