Milwaukee County Zoo named among worst zoos for elephants by animal rights group

A rendering of the new elephant watering hole.

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:10 pm

The Milwaukee County Zoo is among the worst zoos in the country for elephants, according to a new report from a national animal rights organization.

A rendering of the new elephant watering hole.

The California-based group In Defense of Animals listed the Milwaukee zoo at No. 10 on its annual “10 Worst Zoos for Elephants” in North America list.

The report urges Milwaukee to shut down its elephant exhibit or phase it out, claiming Milwaukee’s climate is unsuitable for elephants.

The report takes issue with the zoo’s expansion of its elephant exhibit as part of its Adventure Africa complex, claiming the money would be better spent on conserving elephants in the wild. In Defense of Animals has previously called out the Milwaukee County Zoo on its annual list, which is now in its 15th year.

“Milwaukee County Zoo in Wisconsin is wasting $25 million to create Africa on Ice, something we feel is an elephant-sized mistake,” said Fleur Dawes, a spokeswoman with In Defense of Animals. “If the Zoo were truly interested in conservation, it would close its elephant exhibit, send African elephants Ruth and Brittany to a warm weather sanctuary, and support real conservation efforts in the wild.”

An aerial rendering of the new elephant yard.

The Milwaukee County Zoo released a statement Tuesday defending its practices.

“Milwaukee County Zoo staff is looked upon as experts in the field of animal conservation and well-being, and continues to adhere to the strict guidelines of animal care and welfare as set forth by the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums, of which the Zoo has been an accredited member since 1976,” the Zoo said.

The Milwaukee County Zoo’s Adventure Africa $25 million expansion project includes new homes for the elephant, hippos and rhinos. The improved elephant exhibit is scheduled to open in May.

Components of the complex include a semi-heated outdoor area for the elephants to use in winter and a large barn where guests can see the elephants year-round when they are inside.

The Defense of Animals report claims those improvements fall short.

A rendering of the elephant barn.

“Milwaukee experiences numbingly cold temperatures during its long winters, making it completely unsuitable for elephants,” the report said. “A small ‘semi-heated outdoor area’ for the elephants to use during the brutal winter is a pathetic concession that will utterly fail to satisfy the elephants’ innate need to roam.”

The Zoo said it recently underwent the accreditation process and met all standards for animal care and welfare.

It also said Adventure Africa will bolster its conservation efforts.

“The Zoo has been a longtime supporter of elephant conservation in the wild, and will continue to serve in that role through Adventure Africa,” the statement said. “The exhibit will give visitors an up-close and educational experience with elephants, and in turn, help make possible the field conservation, research and habitat restoration necessary to protect wild populations.”

The second and third phases of the Adventure Africa project include a new hippo exhibit with underwater viewing and a new rhino exhibit, which will be located where the elephants currently live.

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