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Take Action for Elephants in the Oregon Zoo

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Sponsor: The Animal Rescue Site

The Oregon Zoo has seen 26 live elephant births over the past 50 years, with 19 elephants dying at the zoo, raising serious concerns about the welfare of elephants in captivity. Take action for elephants!

The Oregon Zoo has had 26 live elephant births over the past 50 years, with 19 elephants dying at the zoo1. The zoo claims its breeding program is an effort to save the endangered Asian elephant species, which is threatened by habitat fragmentation and other issues in their range countries2. However, critics of the breeding program claim that the zoo is only interested in breeding more elephants to fill their cages and bring in visitors, and that the animals suffer mentally and physically in captivity3.

Lily, the youngest elephant in the herd, died in 2018 from elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV), which has caused about half of the deaths of young elephants in zoos since it was first identified in 1995. Lily was almost six years old, and her death was another blow to a zoo industry trying to infuse new life into its elderly population4.

Chendra, an orphaned elephant that was shot and blinded in one eye before being relocated to the zoo, and the only Borneo pygmy elephant in North America, was expected to give birth to a calf. However, she was found to have tuberculosis and was quarantined while receiving treatment. When she was eight months pregnant, vets detected a drop in her reproductive hormones. A few weeks later, Chendra delivered a dead fetus, which was unrelated to the disease5.

Gay Bradshaw, founder of the Kerulos Center for Nonviolence, has been urging the Oregon Zoo to free Chendra6. However, the zoo has argued that releasing Chendra into the wild would be dangerous and would sever the bonds she has formed with her keepers and other elephants at the zoo7.

The Oregon Zoo's first baby, Packy, arrived in 1960, drawing international attention and tripling attendance that year. Since then, over two dozen elephants have been born at the zoo, but concerns have been raised about the welfare of elephants in American zoos, with mounting scientific evidence that most elephants do not thrive in captivity8.

The intelligence of elephants have been increasingly documented in recent years, causing some to argue that keeping them in captivity is inhumane. The Oregon Zoo has been at the center of this debate, as it has tried to use animal welfare science to make its elephant habitats more intellectually stimulating and spacious9. However, many argue that the zoo should close its elephant exhibit altogether and move the animals to sanctuaries, where they would be free to roam and socialize as they would in the wild10.

In Defense of Animals has listed the Oregon Zoo on its "10 Worst Zoos for Elephants" at least 11 times now, reporting that "All five Oregon Zoo elephants have varying degrees of captivity-related conditions, including chronic diarrhea, obesity, and assorted ear, eye, and leg injuries. They also suffer from toe fractures and foot disease, which proves deadly to many captive elephants via infection and abscesses11."

Elephants are too intelligent, too compassionate, and too large to live in captivity12. It is inhumane to breed more elephants doomed to exhibits13.

Sign our petition and ask the Oregon Zoo to improve its elephant habitats or release these animals to rescue facilities or sanctuaries!

More on this issue:

  1. The Oregon Zoo (2012), "Elephants at the Oregon Zoo: A History."
  2. Ciara O’Rourke, Portland Monthly (1 April 2020), "A Closer Look at the Oregon Zoo’s Elephant Breeding Program."
  3. Bob Jacobs, Associated Press (24 September 2020), "The neural cruelty of captivity: Keeping large mammals in zoos and aquariums damages their brains."
  4. KOIN 6 (30 November 2018), "Oregon Zoo mourns death of Lily the elephant."
  5. Oregon Zoo (20 February 2020), "The story of Oregon Zoo Borneo elephant Chendra."
  6. FREE The Oregon Zoo Elephants (2020), "Virtual rally: The Scars of Captivity, PTSD in Elephants."
  7. Oregon Zoo (2015), "Chendra’s Story."
  8. Jessie McClendon, Portland State University and the Oregon Historical Society (2020), "Packy the elephant (1962-2017)."
  9. Ferris Jabr, Scientific American (26 February 2014), "The Science Is In: Elephants Are Even Smarter Than We Realized [Video]."
  10. Jessica Pierce Marc Bekoff, Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (16 Oct 2018), "A Postzoo Future: Why Welfare Fails Animals in Zoos."
  11. In Defense of Animals (2022), "10 Worst Zoos for Elephants 2021."
  12. Born Free Foundation (2023), "Elephants Encaged."
  13. John Wilkens, The San Diego Union-Tribune (2 February 2020), "The elephant in the room: Are zoos suitable homes for the world’s largest land mammals?"
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The Petition:

To the Director of the Oregon Zoo,

We, the undersigned, are deeply concerned about the welfare of elephants in your zoo. While we appreciate the efforts you have made to improve their living conditions, we believe that more needs to be done to ensure that these magnificent animals are treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.

Specifically, we are calling on you to improve the elephant habitats and raise the standards of care so that they are not being bred just to be displayed in captivity. We believe that the breeding of endangered species should not be done for the sake of increasing attendance or filling cages, but rather as a conservation effort that ensures the survival of these animals in the wild.

Furthermore, we urge you to take into account the mounting scientific evidence that most elephants do not thrive in captivity. We believe that the intelligence and emotional capacity of these animals make it inhumane to keep them in confined spaces, and that they would be better off in sanctuaries where they can roam and socialize freely.

We also call on you to prioritize animal welfare, habitat conservation, and education in all of your activities related to elephants. This will help ensure a better future for these magnificent creatures, both in your zoo and in the wild.

Where this is not possible, we call on the Oregon zoo to release those elephants into rescue facilities or sanctuaries that can give these majestic animals the care they truly deserve.

We believe that it is possible to balance the needs of captive populations with the welfare of individual animals, and we urge you to take a leading role in achieving this balance. We are counting on you to take action and make a positive difference in the lives of these amazing animals.


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