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LR Zoo Makes “10 Worst Zoos for Elephants” List

Animal protection group cites "tiny, antiquated exhibit," says its "where elephants go to die."
IDA is a radical activist group with an agenda to shut down zoos.
LITTLE ROCK, AR - The Little Rock Zoo is coming under fire from an international animal protection organization for its elephant exhibit.

In a news release out today, In Defense of Animals (IDA) released its list of the Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants for 2013. This marks IDA’s 10-year anniversary of exposing the suffering endured by elephants in zoos, the release said.

The Little Rock Zoo appears on IDA’s list for the second time with the following entry:

Little Rock Zoo (Arkansas) - Where Elephants Go to Die The Little Rock Zoo earns a top spot on IDA’s list for its role as partner in crime in the most shameful inter-zoo transfer of 2013, for housing elephants in a tiny, antiquated exhibit, and for using bullhooks. The zoo euthanized an Asian elephant named Jewell in September after handlers found her collapsed one morning. Jewell’s was the third elephant death on Little Rock’s hands in about two years. Records obtained by IDA show that Jewell suffered from a litany of chronic and painful health issues, including debilitating arthritis and abscesses the size of softballs on her feet. IDA also uncovered that Jewell had tuberculosis and that the zoo’s surviving elephant, 53-year-old Zina, was likely exposed. Instead of doing the right thing by retiring Zina to a sanctuary and shutting down its shoddy exhibit for good, the zoo snuck in two more sick elephants from the Niabi Zoo. All three deserved better than to end up here.

The IDA news release continues as follows:
“Ten years should have been enough, but as long as zoos continue to house elephants in substandard exhibits that sacrifice the animals’ welfare, IDA will continue to call out the worst offenders,” said Nicole Meyer, Director of IDA’s Elephant Protection Campaign. “It’s high time for the zoo industry to stop paying lip service and start taking meaningful action to improve conditions for the hundreds of elephants languishing—and dying prematurely—across North America.” 

IDA’s list illustrates how the zoo industry routinely ignores the needs of elephants in zoos through reckless breeding; housing them in unnatural social groupings in inadequate exhibits and cold climates; using outdated, harmful management techniques; and relying on conservation as a justification for keeping elephants in captivity when wild elephants are being slaughtered to near-extinction.

The Toronto Zoo’s appearance on IDA’s 2009 list sparked a campaign that led to the closure of that exhibit in 2013 with three elephants retired to a sanctuary. This brings the number of zoos that have closed, or will close, their elephant exhibits to 26. While zoos and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the accrediting trade organization, are finally starting to acknowledge what IDA has asserted for years—that elephants need space and appropriate social groupings in order to thrive—the zoo industry continues to drag its feet by allowing countless elephants to suffer.

In addition, the Niabi Zoo (Illinois) and the Bowmanville Zoo (Canada) became the newest inductees into IDA’s Hall of Shame, a distinction reserved for the worst repeat offenders.

Click here for a detailed list of all entries.

The Little Rock Zoo released the following statement in response:

Overview:

  • In Defense of Animals (IDA) has no real qualification to comment on the health and wellbeing of elephants held in facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
  • The Little Rock Zoo is much more qualified to comment on the health and wellbeing of our animals.
  • The elephants who died at the Little Rock Zoo were all geriatric and greatly exceeded their median life expectancy.
  • Jewell had tested positive for the antibodies of tuberculosis but never once tested positive for the disease. There is a big difference.
  • Elephant care expert Alan Roocroft recently inspected the Little Rock Zoo and in his inspection report said that the Little Rock Zoo is an excellent facility for the care of geriatric elephants.
  • The Little Rock Zoo is accredited by the AZA and meets stringent guidelines for the care and welfare of its elephants – guidelines that exceed standards set by USDA.
 
In Defense of Animals (IDA) has no real qualification to comment on the health and wellbeing of elephants held in facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). IDA is a radical activist group with an agenda to shut down zoos. Unfortunately, they use manipulated emotional appeals and public relations tactics to energize a very small group of sympathizers in hopes that those sympathizers will give money and time to feed their agenda.
 
The accusations leveled by IDA against AZA accredited zoos and the Little Rock Zoo in a recent press release is a perfect demonstration of how IDA manipulates facts and has no qualification to comment on the health and wellbeing of elephants.  The Little Rock Zoo participates in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Asian elephants and takes guidance from this group of elephant experts and also participates in regular trainings and information exchanges with other AZA zoos.  Certified and trained staff at the Little Rock Zoo have worked for decades with elephants, one as long as 40 years. As such, the Little Rock Zoo is much more qualified to comment on the health and wellbeing of our animals.
 
The elephants who died at the Little Rock Zoo were all geriatric and greatly exceeded their median life expectancy.  At the age of 62, our elephant Jewell outlived her median life expectancy of 49.6 years by more than a decade and received excellent care.  The same is true of elephants Mary and Ellen who died in 2011 at the age of 60.  In fact, the Little Rock Zoo has done such a good job taking care of geriatric elephants that the Niabi Zoo recently chose the Little Rock Zoo as its new home for elephants Sophie and Babe.
 
Elephant care expert Alan Roocroft was hired by the Niabi Zoo to evaluate whether-or-not the Zoo was adequate for its elephants Sophie and Babe, two elephants transported to the Little Rock Zoo from the Niabi Zoo in 2013. In his report to Niabi Zoo, Roocroft states that the Little Rock Zoo is an excellent facility for elephants with staff skilled in the care and management of geriatric elephants.  Elephant expert Roocroft also commented that “you rarely see such a clean well organized facility where each tool has its place and where you could eat off the floor.”
 
Also, documents provided to IDA on Jewell’s health did not indicate that she was infected with tuberculosis. Jewell had tested positive for the antibodies of tuberculosis but never once tested positive for the disease. An animal or human can carry antibodies for the disease their entire life and never develop tuberculosis. The zoo’s current elephants, Sophie, Babe, and Zina, are tested regularly for tuberculosis and have also never tested positive for the disease. IDA has diagnosed our elephants with a disease they do not have and has no medical evidence to back-up their claim, only false assertions.
 
About the Asian Elephant SSP:
The Asian elephant SSP consists of elephant experts with decades of combined experience in the care and welfare of elephants. The SSP ensures that the Little Rock Zoo is complying with AZA standards including standards for the medical and social health of the elephant, and whether-or-not a facility that houses elephants is adequately built and equipped. AZA standards exceed standards set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) for elephant housing and care.  It is an honor and accomplishment that the Little Rock Zoo is accredited by the AZA and is able to comply with these numerous guidelines.  In addition, the SSP meets regularly to discuss the overall health and wellbeing of AZA elephants and members share data and best practices.

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