In Defense of Animals has released its annual list of the 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America, exposing zoos that are considered the “best” by industry standards.
The review draws attention to neuroscientific research, delivering a damning conclusion: elephants living in unnatural captive environments suffer from captivity-caused brain damage.
Ricky Gervais, vegan animal rights advocate and celebrity comedian, is calling for all elephants to be released to accredited sanctuaries where they can live a more natural life.
“Elephants are sensitive, emotional, and highly intelligent beings — seeing them suffer mentally and physically behind bars is heartbreaking,” said Gervais.
The #1 worst zoo of 2021
Edmonton Valley Zoo in Alberta, Canada, has been identified as the worst zoo of 2021. The facility has held 46-year-old Asian elephant Lucy in solitary confinement for the past 15 years.
Bob Jacobs, Ph.D., professor of neuroscience and lead author of Putative neural consequences of captivity for elephants and cetaceans, summarized the findings.
“Decades of neuroscience research shows that an impoverished brain is a damaged brain. Whether it is the 10 Worst Zoos or the ten best, all zoos are detrimental to elephants’ brains and cause physical and mental suffering,” said Jacobs.
Captivity and ‘neural cruelty’
According to Jacobs, captivity leads to neural cruelty, which negatively impacts the hippocampus, which handles memory, and the center of the brain that processes emotions. This essentially leads to repetitive stereotypic behaviours that many animals adopt in captivity – crippling their social, mental, and neural needs.
Despite the fact that these zoos hold relevant accreditations by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), and the Canadian equivalent (CAZA), the gold standard for zoos, they fail to provide an adequate duty of care for the elephants, In Defense of Animals says.
In fact, the organization found evidence of neural cruelty in every zoo on this year’s list – and also in every other zoo with elephants to various degrees.
Gervais is encouraging the public to join him together, with In Defense of Animals, to call for the end of elephant captivity. He said: “I personally urge all zoos on the 10 Worst Zoos list to urgently retire elephants to accredited sanctuaries so they may live their lives with dignity.”