BELMONT — An animal protection group has named the Bronx Zoo as one of the worst places on the continent for elephants.
In Defense of Animals, an activist group based in San Rafael, Calif., recently came out with its annual list of the 10 worst zoos for elephants in North America and announced that the Bronx Zoo had entered its Hall of Shame this year, a designation the organization reserves for the worst repeat offenders.
"The Hall of Shame is usually reserved for only those zoos who have just persistently been committed to elephant suffering, to zoos who have been consistently demonstrating a complete disregard for the elephants and their care," said Dr. Toni Frohoff, a wildlife biologist who specializes in elephants for IDA.
The group singled out the zoo's treatment of one elephant, named Happy, for particularly severe criticism, saying that officials have kept her in "solitary confinement" for nearly a decade.
Although the zoo has two other elephants, they behave aggressively toward Happy, so she cannot be kept with them, according to Frohoff.
"It’s dangerous to keep her with the elephants, and it’s dangerous to keep her alone," she said. "She should be completely removed from the zoo."
Although the zoo has said it plans to eventually close down the elephant exhibit, IDA is advocating for Happy to be immediately relocated to an elephant sanctuary so that she can enjoy the rest of her life.
"Why can’t they just send Happy to a sanctuary now where she’d have a happy ending instead of rotting away where she is?" Frohoff asked. "It’s unabashedly cruel to keep her there, especially when they acknowledge that the exhibit will be closed at some point."
The Bronx Zoo had appeared on IDA's top 10 list four times before its Hall of Shame induction, according to Frohoff.
New York's Buffalo Zoo was on this year's IDA list as well at number nine, with the group criticizing the zoo for forcing its elephants to endure the city's harsh winters.
“It is shocking that a progressive state like New York has not one but two of the worst zoos for elephants in North America," IDA President Dr. Marilyn Kroplick said in a statement. "Buffalo’s exhibit is a frigid fiasco, and the Bronx Zoo’s plans to keep Happy in solitary confinement until she dies are utterly vile.”
Bronx Zoo Director Jim Breheny maintained that IDA did not accurately describe how the zoo treats Happy, saying that she is not kept isolated or in solitary confinement and interacts with her caretakers for several hours a day.
“Happy is healthy and comfortable in the home she has known for nearly four decades. Our animal care professionals say she exhibits no signs of physiological or psychological stress with virtually no stereotypical behavior," he said in a statement. "We don't think moving Happy from familiar surroundings and the people to whom she is bonded is in her best interest."
Buffalo Zoo President Donna Fernandes defended her zoo's treatment of its elephants, saying that they receive very high quality care.
“The elephant keepers are incredibly dedicated to making sure their animals are happy and healthy year round,” she said in a statement.
“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.”
IDA is asking people not to go to the Bronx Zoo for as long as its elephant exhibit remains open.
"Every ticket they buy is perpetuating the suffering of the elephants there," she said.