The Oklahoma City Zoo has been named the worst zoo for elephants in 2016 by the In Defense of Animals organization.
10 Worst Zoos for Elephants 2016 https://t.co/p0kCXQDgnu
— Nashville Animal Adv (@Nash_Animal_Adv) January 10, 2017
The organization released its list of Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants, and it comes as no surprise to anyone paying attention that the OKC Zoo ranked number one on the list because of the ongoing controversy surrounding two elephants, Chai, now deceased, and Bambo, both who were obtained from the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.
A media release about the list contains some gruesome details about both Chai and Bamboo’s treatment. The release states, for example:
. . . Bamboo survives [Chai], and has since had two inches of her tail bitten off by another frustrated elephant in their prison-like pen. Bamboo has been kept in either in solitary confinement with the aggressive female, or in the occasional company of a young male; none of these circumstances constitute even reasonable social companionship. Yet Oklahoma Zoo callously describes this sad elephant inmate as doing great.
I wrote about Bamboo’s tragic situation here back in August, and it ranked as one of the highest read posts on Okie Funk in 2016. A full take about the list of worst zoos from In Defense of Animals can be found here
As you may recall, Chai died in January, 2016. Another OKC Zoo elephant, Malee, has reently died. Bamboo, meanwhile, has been been attacked and gone on the attack because she can’t adjust to what zoo officials insist on calling a “herd.” It’s not a herd in any natural sense. It’s more like a disparate group of inmates in an abusive internment camp. In Defense of Animals doesn’t mince words about the OKC Zoo: “After being on our list twice, Oklahoma City Zoo, welcome to our #1 worst spot for your part in creating a devastatingly tragic outcome for generations of elephants.”
The general argument made by those in favor of keeping such huge and majestic animals in small enclosures, such as the prominent Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), is that zoos build empathy for wild animals among people and this empathy ultimately prevents extinction of some species. If people see these magnificent animals, so the argument goes, they will become enamored and take the necessary action to protect them.
The only problem with this argument is that (1) There are sanctuaries for elephants that give them more space. (2) There are ways to view all larger animals in their natural habitats. (3) Many of the larger animals live out their days in ways that create mental and physical distress for them on a daily basis. (4) City zoos are about entertainment and tourism not about general concern related to animal welfare.
The argument against zoos is that the animals, especially larger ones like elephants, live miserable existences, which is apparent to anyone who takes the time to really observe them in their enclosures. This is the correct position. Bring people to the animals in their natural habitats, if possible, and don’t interfere. We should strive to maintain the planet’s life systems in as pure ways as we can. Zoos are businesses, not sanctuaries.
The material In Defense of Animals presents against the OKC Zoo is intense. Here’s some of that information:
Not long after her arrival in Oklahoma, Chai lost about 1000 pounds, and was found on the ground three times in one week. On two occasions she needed to be mechanically hoisted up. She also had a bacterial infection in her bloodstream, likely caused by 25 clearly visible pus-filled abscesses that went untreated, among her other chronic health problems. Yet the Oklahoma Zoo had the audacity to say that there were ‘no red flags’ before her death.
Bamboo could be transferred to a relatively nearby elephant sanctuary in Tennessee, but OKC Zoo officials have taken a stubborn approach to the issue and won’t do it. If they send Bamboo to a better life, then, of course, they admit the very foundation of their careers are wrong and that they’re wrong on a deeper, moral personal level about the animals they pretend to care for.
I know many rank-and-file zookeepers genuinely care about animals, but keeping larger animals like elephants in captivity within small enclosures, especially like the OKC Zoo, remains morally repugnant.
These are frightening times with the coming President-elect Donald Trump presidency and all it’s uncertainty in terms of Trump’s blustering authoritarianism and radical behavior so animal advocacy might be down on some people’s list of concerns right now. But it’s all connected—human rights, equality, social justice, medical access, global warming, the overall environment and compassion for animals, etc.—and we need to speak up.