Fresno Chaffee Zoo listed as one of the worst for elephants

An international animal protection group released its annual list of Worst Zoos for Elephants on Tuesday.

Included on the list was Fresno Chaffee Zoo.

In Defense of Animals has been keeping a running tab of the worst zoos since 2004, ranking each on a series of factors like space (or lack thereof), unsuitably cold climates and unnatural conditions, reckless breeding and premature deaths among elephants.

According to the group, it assesses facilities in person, but also reviews government and veterinary records, death reports and consults with elephant scientists and other experts.

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The Fresno Chaffee Zoo was named one of the worst in North America for its treatment of elephants, according to an annual list from In Defense of Animals. In Defense of Animals

Fresno Chaffee Zoo was one of two California zoos on the list. It ranked No. 9, just below Los Angeles Zoo and just above Audubon Zoo in New Orleans. Edmonton Valley Zoo in Alberta, Canada was the worst, according to the group.

It is the first time the Fresno zoo has been named to the list. In a statement, In Defense of Animals cites the death of three elephants at the zoo between 2017-2019.

“This zoo epitomizes the saying that elephants don’t live in zoos, they die in zoos.”

Amy, a 30-year-old African elephant, died in 2017 after nearly two years of medical treatment to repair a torn ligament in her right elbow. Amy’s daughter, an 11-year-old elephant named Bets, died in 2019. The zoo at the time hadn’t determined what led to the death, but In Defense of Animals said it was a painful viral infection.

One of the zoo’s Asian elephants, Kara, was euthanized in 2017 after suffering from chronic osteoarthritis. She was 40. The zoo’s other Asian elephant was relocated following Kara’s death.

The group also claims two other Chaffee Zoo elephants were stolen from their homes in Swaziland in 2016 and sent to US zoos for breeding. The two elephants — a 27-year-old female named Nolwazi and her 12-year-old daughter Amahle — came to Fresno from the Dallas Zoo in 2018.

“Shuffling elephants around for breeding is a cruel but common practice for zoos following the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Species Survival Plan,” In Defense of Animals wrote in its statement. The group said the stress of such movement “inflicts psychological and physical trauma on elephants, including brain damage.”

Fresno Chaffee Zoo response

The Fresno Chaffee Zoo on Tuesday morning defended its care of the elephants at the zoo and its support of elephants in the wild.

“Throughout the years, guests have built a bond with our elephants that connects them to their wild counterparts,” the zoo wrote in a statement.

“Fresno Chaffee Zoo not only provides exceptional care to our elephants, but also supports the conservation of wild elephants through the Tanzania Conservation Research Program with our Fresno Chaffee Zoo Conservation Fund.”

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Vus’ Musi, a male African elephant, frolics in a mud wallow at African Adventure exhibit. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

This story was originally published March 29, 2022 10:17 AM.

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Joshua Tehee covers breaking news for The Fresno Bee, writing on a wide range of topics from police, politics and weather, to arts and entertainment in the Central Valley.

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