Bronx Zoo is among ‘worst for elephants,’ animal protection group says

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BRONX, N.Y. (PIX11) — A New York City zoo is one of the worst in the nation for elephants, according to a scathing report released this week by the group In Defense of Animals.

Bronx Zoo landed at No. 5 on the list’s 11th iteration. In Defense of Animals criticized the Bronx Zoo for keeping pachyderms in cramped conditions, cold weather and solitary habitats.

“Conservation cannot be used as an excuse for cruelty, especially when we know that elephants bred in captivity will not be released to the wild,” said Toni Frohoff, Ph.D., Elephant & Cetacean Scientist for IDA.

“The tens of millions of dollars spent keeping elephants in zoos could be used more wisely and compassionately for real conservation.”

The Bronx Zoo is home to three Asian elephants, which have been listed as an endangered species since 1976, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

One of those elephants is Happy, whose ability to recognize herself in the mirror helped prove that elephants are smarter than humans first thought.

Mirror self-recognition hints at the deeper, complex cognitive ability of self-awareness. Some animals will ignore their reflections while others think the reflection is another animal entirely.

But elephants have been shown to check out themselves in the mirror, like humans. They use their reflection to study parts of their bodies they can’t usually see, like inside their mouths or under their feet.

“Happy’s reward for her contribution to science was to be sentenced to solitary confinement for almost ten years (since 2006) – all with the zoo’s knowledge that she is aware of her suffering,” the agency wrote.

Happy lives separately from her fellow pachyderms in the Bronx — Patty and Maxine — because the others have attacked her in the past.

Aside from the loneliness, In Defense of Animals cited New York’s harsh winters as reason enough to put them on the list. The group also said the Bronx Zoo is too cramped for the elephants to live well.

According to requirements established by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, elephants must be provided with enough indoor space to let them “move about and lie down without restriction” and must be able to accommodate an elephant that can reach up to 24 feet vertically.

Requirements for elephants’ outdoor enclosures are vague.

“Outdoor habitats must be prove sufficient space and environmental complexity to both allow for and stimulate natural behavioral activities and social interactions resulting in healthy and well-adapted elephants,” the AZA said.

In the wild, Asian elephants travel long distances in search of food, sometimes covering 15 miles in a day.

Multiple requests for comment from the Bronx Zoo, including with details on the size of the animals’ enclosures, were denied.

In Defense of Animals also chided Oregon’s Wildlife Safari for its use of a elephants as “living car washes,” and Massachusetts’ Buttonwood Park Zoo where its elephants allegedly have suffered from hypothermia and frostbite.

“At a time of greater awareness of the plight of elephants in the wild, who are dying for the illegal ivory trade, it is shocking that captive elephants continue to suffer and die prematurely at the very zoos that are claiming to help save these species,” Frohoff said.

All 10 of the “Worst Zoos for Elephants,” according to In Defense of Animals, are as follows:

  1. Natural Bridge Zoo, Natural Bridge, VA: Roadside Atrocity
  2. San Antonio Zoo: Shameless in San Antonio
  3. Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, Vallejo, CA: Nothing Amusing at this Abusement Park
  4. Buttonwood Park Zoo, New Bedford, MA: Truly Frozen
  5. Bronx Zoo – Bronx, NY – Sentenced to Solitary Suffering
  6. Buffalo Zoo, NY: Frigid Fiasco Behind Bars
  7. Wildlife Safari, Winston, OR: Nothing Natural About This Safari
  8. Milwaukee County Zoo, WI: Packed In Like Produce
  9. Rosamond Gifford Zoo, Syracuse, NY – Used and Abused
  10. Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Lake Buena Vista, FL: Tragic Kingdom
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