List claims Buffalo Zoo is one of the worst for elephants, Zoo calls claims factually inaccurate

Posted at 12:44 PM, Jan 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-11 08:37:31-05

A list released by In Defense of Animals (IDA), a non-profit international animal protection organization, has put the Buffalo Zoo on its annual list of the Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants for 2016.

"Elephants are suffering horrendously in New York's zoos," said In Defense of Animals President Dr. Marilyn Kroplick. "It is disgusting and unethical to keep tropical animals where they are confined for months in New York's freezing winter climate, and to condemn a highly-social elephant to live in virtual solitary confinement."

IDA calls living conditions for elephants in Buffalo "brutally cold" and a challenge for the animals whose natural tropical climate is far warmer.

IDA also says there is not enough space for elephants in the zoo, resulting in lack of exercise and being forced to stand on hard surfaces that harm their feet and joints. The organization says this causes captivity-related pain, illness and early mortality.

The elephant pair, seen swaying in the video from Robin Donovan, are showing a persistent and repetitive motion IDA says is "stereotyped behavior" indicating intense stress and poor welfare in confined, unnatural environments.

In response to Buffalo's number six ranking on the list, the Buffalo Zoo says it provides its animals with the best possible care and has an elephant team with a tremendous amount of education and experience.

"The elephant keepers are incredibly dedicated to making sure their animals are happy and healthy year 'round," said Zoo President Donna Fernandes. "They spend hours a day with Jothi and Surapa, cleaning and feeding them, and managing a schedule of enrichment activities. To imply that our elephants receive anything less than the best possible care would be a disservice to some of the most hard-working people in the industry."

The Zoo says IDA's claims in its recent list are not factually accurate, specifically citing the non-profit's assertion that the elephants have restricted access outside. The Zoo says the elephants, in fact, are provided access to the yard together.

IDA has since responded to this claim, saying it did not suggest that the elephants did not have access to the yard, but rather that the elephants are "confined" within captivity, with or without access outside. The IDA says the elephants are confined inside due to the cold temperatures, restricting their physical activity.

IDA continues by saying the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), to which the Buffalo Zoo is an accredited member, has standards which require constant monitoring of the animals in cold temperatures.  According to IDA, the AZA's standards state "elephants exposed to temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit for longer than 60 minutes, must be monitored hourly to assess the potential for hypothermia."

In a continuation of the Zoo's response to IDA's claims, the Buffalo Zoo says it uses positive reinforcement training methods, meaning the animals act only on their own free will. The Zoo said this in opposition to the IDA's concern about the elephants swaying in discomfort.

The Zoo concluded its statement by saying the exhibition of elephants in New York zoos, including Buffalo, "was instrumental in gaining support for legislation to ban the sale of ivory in New York State." Governor Cuomo signed a law banning the sale of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horns in August 2014. The hopes of this law is to stop the poaching of elephants, which kills 96 elephants each day in Africa.

According to IDA, zoos do not conserve elephants.

"Captive elephants are dying faster than they can reproduce, leading zoos to steal young elephants from the wild, which destroys the elephant societies zoos claim to be conserving," said IDA Elephant Scientist Toni Frohoff. "Behind the scenes, zoos in the US and Canada are condemning Earth's largest land mammals to lifetimes of deprivation, disease, despair and early death. It is time to end our shameful exploitation of elephants in American zoos."

The Buffalo Zoo says anyone interested in the welfare of elephants is encouraged to support organizations working to protect elephants in the wild from poachers.