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The Disappearing Zoo Elephant

There are two elephant sanctuaries in the United States, one in California and one in Tennessee.

| BY Kent McDill

When Ringling Bros.-Barnum and Bailey Circus announced earlier this year they were removing elephants from their traveling events, the sadness for circus fans was mitigated by the understanding that the performing elephants are probably better off.

And, thought elephant fans who will miss the massive animals at the circus, we can always see the pachyderms at the zoo.

Maybe not so much.

Due to the aging of the current zoo population and intensified concern over their lives in captivity, many zoos in the United States are making plans to rid themselves of their elephant exhibits.

Last month, The Chicago Tribune researched the state of the American zoo population of elephants and found that many are living lives filled with stress related to the size of their enclosure and the lack of companionship with other elephants.

In Seattle, the Woodland Park Zoo has closed its elephant exhibit and moved its two elephants to a much larger zoo in Oklahoma City where they will have far more space upon which to roam. The Oklahoma City Zoo has six elephants now, including a baby female born in December of 2014. She joins her sister Malee, who was born to the same mother in 2011.

 (That move of Seattle elephants was interrupted by bad weather at the end of April, and the two elephants have found temporary homes at the San Diego Zoo).

The Woodland Park zoo was six years away from celebrating the 100-year anniversary of its elephant exhibit. Woodland staff made the decision to move their elephants after discussing getting new ones, which is very hard to do in these days with dwindling numbers in both captivity and the wild.

Other zoos report awaiting their elephants’ deaths with no plans to replace them. The Bronx Zoo is operating on that plan with its two remaining elephants. The Greenville, S.C. zoo recently transported its lone elephant, Joey, to a larger zoo in Colorado Springs, only to find out that the 48-year-old Joey died on the trip to her new home.

According to the Tribune, the advocacy group In Defense of Animals reports 21 zoos in North American have closed their elephant exhibits in the last 25 years. Meanwhile, approximately two-thirds of all female elephants in American zoos are over the age of 30, and the average life expectancy for caged female elephants is 38.

According to a 2014 story in the Wall Street Journal, only about 75 of the 224 accredited zoos in the United States have elephants. That number could dwindle under new guidelines issued by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which say elephants need larger roaming space and must be part of a minimum size herd. Those guidelines go into effect over the next two years.

Outside of the choice of other zoos, officials can move the elephants to one of two sanctuaries: The PAWS Wildlife Sanctuaries in San Andreas, Calif., or The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn., which is currently a 300-acre site with expansion plans that could multiply the space available for the elephants to roam.


About the Author

Kent McDill

Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.

In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.

McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.

McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy  Buffett and all things Disney.