Day after day, visitors at the Oregon Zoo stop for a brief look at the elephants, unaware of the secret suffering these magnificent creatures endure.

The Oregon Zoo cannot meet either the physical or social needs of its elephants. Forced to live in concrete boxes and artificial displays, away from their families and social structures, unable to roam in the richness and variety of a natural landscape, they suffer. Their confinement causes chronic illnesses and premature death. The frequent occurrence of foot and weight related diseases, arthritis, still births, infertility, infanticide, heightened aggression, stereotypic swaying, head bobbing and other neurotic behavior prove that the Oregon Zoo elephants’ needs are not being met. Captivity is a terrible existence for elephants.



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Elephants need miles to roam.

The AZA (Associaton of Zoos and Aquariums) claims that the size of a two car garage is adequate space to house an elephant at a zoo. Wild elephant experts including Dr. Joyce Poole and Cynthia Moss, after oberving wild elephants for decades in their range countries, state that an elephant’s space requirement is vastly larger. In fact, elephants walk up to 30 or more miles a day, to forage, to socialize, to find water; and this provides them with the physical and mental health they need to thrive as elephants.

In a zoo, elephants are confined to a one to 4 acre enclosure. Elephants are one of the most intelligent and social species on earth. Once they have walked across the zoo’s outdoor yard a few times, they are bored. Even a dog would get bored if never allowed to leave her yard. Imagine what life is like for these massive beings who literally must walk for miles to keep their joints, feet and minds healthy.



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Four of the elephants at the Oregon Zoo contracted TB.

Three of the TB elephants are now dead, Rama, Tusko and Packy. Shortly after Packy’s death in February of 2017, Shine came down with this highly contagious disease. Seven zoo staff members also tested positive for TB. In the wild, elephants do not get TB. The only time wild elephants get this disease is when they come in contact with humans. Zoo and circus elephants are highly susceptible to TB. They often live in cramped, small spaces and in wet and cold environments, which make the elephants more likely to get TB.

The elephants at the Oregon Zoo are forced to live indoors for many months during the bitter cold winter months. There is really no adequate way to quarantine the TB elephants, as the space is so limited, therefore risking further contamination of the herd.

Another reason elephants often get TB in captivity is because of the constant impact from living on hard surfaces. From a report by Elephants In Canada:

“ These surfaces are uncomfortable, can cause physical harm to elephants and lead to foot infections… and can damage other tissue as well. For massive animals such as the elephant, the effect is horrendous and is easily calculated.   It can amount to three times the weight of the body. For a 5-ton elephant, that is a force of 15 tons — as if the weight of seven automobiles is slammed into the body. Mammal bodies are composed largely of water, an incompressible fluid. When that force hits the elephant’s body, the concussion is transmitted through the legs, and upward through all organs of the body.
The cells of those organs are ruptured. This occurs notably among the delicate cells of the alveoli of the lungs. That is the source of the well-documented prevalence of deaths due to tuberculosis, a disease of the lungs, among captive elephants and other large mammals.”

The elephants at the Oregon Zoo lived on hard surfaces for most of their lives. Their new habitat is now made of sand. However sand brings its own set of problems for elephants, including the danger of ingesting it, which can impact the digestive tract, and has led to early death in some elephants.



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Elephant health slowly deteriorates in captivity.

Foot disease is the number one killer of elephants in captivity. Walking for years on hard packed surfaces breaks down their feet, resulting in painful, often fatal foot rot. Sometimes the foot pain is so bad, elephants have been seen lifting one foot and then another and even leaning on their trunks to take the weight off their infected feet. This was true with Pet who was euthanized in 2006 due to her arthritis and foot disease. Arthritis and joint disease are common, as well as abscesses. Elephants are subjected to many invasive blood draws and are given a host of medications, including numerous pain medications to deal with the adverse conditions of captivity. None of these conditions exist in the wild.

Mentally, elephants don’t fare any better. When you see them swaying back and forth or bobbing their heads or pacing endlessly, they are not dancing, they are suffering from extreme stress, boredom and depression. Chendra walks continuously in circles. Packy paced for long periods of time. Tusko and Rama both bobbed their heads from side to side. In additon Rama and Tusko had debilitating leg injuries. After many years of taking pain meds, the meds no longer worked for Rama and he was euthanized at age 31, Tusko at 44.



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The Oregon Zoo still keeps bullhooks

Unlike other more progressive zoos, the Oregon Zoo still keeps what the zoo industry calls a “guide” or in Asia, an ankus, on hand to manage their elephants. This stick with a sharp point at the end is used to jab elephants into submission. The zoo now claims to only use the bullhooks occasionally and manages the elephants with “welfare based training” with sticks and no steel point at the end. However, the zoo has a long history of abuse with bullhooks, including a severe beating of Rose-Tu in 2000 when she was just five years old, so we advocate for the zoo to completely eliminate bullhooks from their cache of management tools and to never engage with elephants in free contact.

The Oakland Zoo for instance and all zoos in California use only what is termed “protected contact” where the elephants are manged form behind a safety barrier. Elephants are wild animals, they are not domesticated like companion animals. They can pose a danger to their keepers. In fact a number of elephant keepers have been injured or killed over the years by elephants. So protected contact protects both keeper and elephant.



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Keeping elephants in zoos is harming conservation efforts.

Zoos repeatedly claim that they are conserving wild species by breeding them, and that they contribute many resources to conservation efforts in Asia and Africa. However, as recent as 2014, even Paul Boyle, senior vice president for conservation and education at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums says that zoos contribute only one percent of their budgets to conservation. And to quote Dr. Keith Lindsay, of the Amboselli Trust in Kenya, “The millions of dollars spent on elephant exhibits in zoos could fund a refuge in Africa for eternity.”

Elephants are never returned to the wild, so there is no benefit for them to be bred in captivity. Zoos spin this by saying they are growing a “North American herd”. However, elephants are not and will not ever be indigenous to North America. The only way to protect elephants according to wildlife biologists, is to save their habitat where they live, and work with indigenous communities to develop ways to live in harmony with elephants. If zoos were to donate 10% every year to conservation efforts like these, they would be contributing $800 million per year to save elephants. What a difference that would make.

Furthermore, as Dr. Margi Prideaux, an international wildlife policy writer says, zoos seldom cosnsult with indigenous cultures to find out how they can help restore elephant populations and work to solve human/elephant conflicts. And the money that is spent on conservation in range countries often goes to government beaurocrats, not to the workers in the field.

China is importing more and more elephants from Asia and Africa to Chinese Zoos. Zimbabwe recently sold 18 elephants to three zoos in the US. So zoos are depleting wild populations,
not restoring them.

To help elephants be free, we have to free ourselves from this conservation myth.



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Breeding elephants in zoos results in early deaths and diseases

Captive breeding programs are plagued by disease and high still-birth rate. The average infant mortality rate for captive elephants is a shocking 40%, nearly triple the rate in the Asian or African wild. Of the 28 elephants born at the Oregon Zoo, 7 died within four days of birth.

An aggressive elephant breeding program would require the Oregon Zoo to purchase or rent breeding stock, or shipping elephants like chattel throughout the country to breed. During this process the elephants will endure the stress of prolonged, invasive attempts at artificial insemination.

Of 27 zoo pregnancies achieved by artificial insemination in U.S. zoos since 1999, eight resulted in miscarriages or stillborn deaths and an additional six calves died from disease.

The truth is that the elephant breeding business is a dirty underworld where elephants are produced, used, sold and traded like black market merchandise.





3 SICK 11%


8 ALIVE 29%

SOURCE: Absolute Elephant Information Encyclopedia Database www.elephant.se


The Oregon Zoo received $125 million from area taxpayers in 2008 by promising to establish an off-site elephant reserve/sanctuary where elephants would roam free. Zoo officials then abandoned that promise shifting money to increase funding to build the new $59 million on-site “Elephant Lands” designed to support an aggressive, experimental elephant breeding operation.

Of EL’s 6.5 acres, only 4 are available for elephant habitat. Much of the remaining 2.5 acres is hidden from public view and will be used for breeding.

Behind the 4 acre facade of fake rocks, sands, artificial ponds and “feeding stations” exists 2.5 acres of laboratories, surgical rooms, elephant restraint devices, dubbed “rape racks” by elephant experts in Southeast Asia, chains, cages and bars where elephants will be bred.

The ugly truth about breeding elephants in captivity:

Elephants must be “broken” to allow daily blood draws and other invasive procedures.

Elephants must be fearful of the pain inflicted by bull hooks so they can be placed in elephant restraint devices (ERDs).

Male elephants must be restrained and artificially manipulated to produce sperm “donations”.

Sperm must be shipped within 24 hours.

Ultrasound and other “sophisticated” equipment must be used to perform artificial insemination.

Subsequent daily blood draws on females are necessary to determine pregnancy.

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