More U.S. Zoos Closing Elephant Exhibits

Maryann Mott
for National Geographic News
March 2, 2006

After more than a century of displaying elephants, the Bronx Zoo in New York announced plans last month to shut down its elephant exhibit after the animals die.

The announcement comes at a time when some U.S. zoos are debating whether to continue keeping elephants in captivity.

Officials decided to close the Bronx exhibit for the benefit of Maxine, Patty, and Happy—all in their mid-30s and residents at the zoo for some three decades.

"Committing to elephants into the future would require us to build up a new herd, and there is no guarantee that our three girls would accept new elephants," said Bronx Zoo spokesperson Alison Power.

Given their age, the Asian elephants could remain on display for another 5, 10, or 20 years.

Growing Trend

A handful of U.S. zoos, including ones in San Francisco and Chicago, have recently closed their elephant exhibits.

Central Park and Prospect Park zoos, both in New York, stopped displaying elephants in the 1980s.

Last year, the Detroit Zoo in Michigan sent its aging and arthritic elephants—Winky, 52, and Wanda, 46—to a California sanctuary to live out their remaining years.

"Just as polar bears don't thrive in a hot climate, Asian elephants shouldn't live in small groups without many acres to roam," Detroit Zoo director Ron Kagan said at the time.

"They clearly shouldn't have to suffer the winters of the North."

What's more, animal activists are pushing hard to get zoos—most recently those in Los Angeles, Tucson, and Washington, D.C.—to close their elephant exhibits, arguing that captive environments do not meet the animals' physical or behavioral needs.

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