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What’s the Worst Zoo for Elephants in California?

Written by Christina CampodonicoPublished Jan. 24, 2023 • 5:00pm
Amahle, an elephant at Fresno Chaffee Zoo in Fresno | Courtesy In Defense of Animals

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From San Diego to Oakland, California has some of the best zoos in the country. But it also might have some of the worst. That’s according to In Defense of Animals’ 2022 list of the “10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America.”

The rankings, put out by the Marin County-based animal protection organization annually and released today, just added Fresno Chaffee Zoo to its so-called “Hall of Shame.” Ranked as the ninth worst zoo for elephants last year, the Central Valley zoo got an extra badge of dishonor this year even though it didn’t quite make the top 10 this time around.

In Defense of Animals—whose list has been featured in Esquire and The New York Times—cited lack of space for the zoo’s three African elephants to roam and a lawsuit filed in San Francisco County as reasons for inducting the zoo into its “Hall of Shame.” In a release, the organization also alleged that the zoo had electrified its trees to prevent the animals from touching them and criticized zoo breeding practices as well as the moving of animals between facilities.

“Elephants need vast spaces, way more than any zoo can provide,” Marilyn Kroplick, M.D., president of In Defense of Animals, said in a press release. “We encourage zoos to look to accredited elephant sanctuaries, which respect elephant autonomy, do not breed elephants or put them on public display, and provide hundreds or even thousands of acres for elephants to roam. No zoo can meet an elephant’s basic needs, so we call on all remaining zoos with elephants to commit to phase out their exhibits and send elephants to accredited sanctuaries where they can live a much more natural life.”

A representative from Fresno Chaffee Zoo disputed the claims made by In Defense of Animals and defended its treatment of elephants as humane.

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Christina Campodonico can be reached at [email protected]


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