african lion safari

Ontario zoo named worst in the continent for treatment of elephants

An Ontario zoo has officially been named the worst in all of North America for its treatment of elephants, according to a new report from In Defense of Animals.

The international animal protection organization just released its list of the 10 worst North American zoos for elephants in 2020, and Cambridge's African Lion Safari took the top spot.

"The facility breeds elephants for sale, causes 'transfer abuse' trauma through repeated shipments, dominates elephants with bullhooks, forces them to perform unnatural circus tricks, and endangers children and adults by encouraging them to ride elephants for profit," reads the report.

According to In Defense of Animals, numerous zoos on 2020's list knowingly engage in "transfer abuse," which means repeatedly trafficking elephants from place to place. 

This practice is associated with a particular repetitive behaviour known as "zoochosis," according to the report, which is a major indicator of compromised welfare that has been exhibited by multiple elephants in North American zoos.

Here's full list of the 10 worst zoos for elephants in 2020:

  1. African Lion Safari, Cambridge, ON
  2. Fort Worth Zoo, Fort Worth, TX
  3. Pittsburgh Zoo, Pittsburgh, PA
  4. Seneca Park Zoo, Rochester, NY
  5. Monterey Zoo, Salinas, CA
  6. Myrtle Beach Safari, Myrtle Beach, SC
  7. Natural Bridge Zoo, Natural Bridge, VA
  8. Memphis Zoo, Memphis, TN
  9. Cameron Park Zoo, Waco, TX
  10. Hogle Zoo, Salt Lake City, UT

"Many zoos on this year's 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants list repeatedly truck elephants between facilities for breeding to attract more paying visitors. Even young elephants are separated from their mothers by some of the zoos on our list," said In Defense of Animals elephant campaign coordinator Will Anderson in a statement.

"Transfer abuse is just one of the traumas inflicted on captive elephants in North America, as these intelligent and socially complex animals are denied control over their lives. The only remedy to the litany of elephant abuse exposed by our 10 Worst Zoos list is to phase out elephant exhibits and send the captives to accredited sanctuaries."

The report explains that many of these zoos continue to hold elephants in social isolation, dominate them through pain and fear using bullhooks and keep them locked in barns during long, cold winters.

Several also encourage unprotected contact with visitors, which the organization says can cause injury and even death if an elephant make an unexpected move.

At some locations, this has continued even throughout the pandemic, with some zoos encouraging visitors including children to come into close contact with elephants' trunks despite the debated risks of transmitting zoonotic diseases such as tuberculosis.

And while it's not known whether COVID-19 can spread between humans and elephants, In Defense of Animals says numerous captive animals including tigers, lions, snow leopards and a gorilla have been infected with the virus by humans at several zoos.

"Our 10 Worst Zoos list shows how zoos are killing elephants and risking human health," said In Defense of Animals President Dr. Marilyn Kroplick.

"This pandemic has shown us how serious zoonotic disease can be, yet many of the zoos on our list encouraged direct contact with elephants which could potentially spread disease between animals and visitors, including young children. We call on zoos to stop endangering animals and the public by sending captive elephants to accredited sanctuaries."

Lead photo by

Boris Kasimov

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