Two of South Carolina’s zoos have been named among the top 10 worst for elephants.
The Riverbanks Zoo and Garden and the Myrtle Beach Safari have been included in a list by an animal rights organization that features zoos with flagrant violations of the Animal Welfare Act, brutal breeding procedures and whose elephants died prematurely.
The organization, In Defense of Animals, ranked Columbia’s Riverbanks Zoo and Garden 10th worst and named Myrtle Beach Safari the sixth worst.
The Riverbanks Zoo and Garden was included in the list after two elephants died within six months of each other, according to a news release from the animal rights organization. Inadequate zoo conditions artificially shortens the lifespans of elephants, the release stated.
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“When a captive elephant dies, these problems are often wrongly attributed to age, rather than the chronic deterioration caused by years of captivity that slowly and silently kills elephants, while tickets continue to be sold,” the release stated.
The organization called on the Riverbanks Zoo to “close its antiquated elephant exhibit for good” and to send the elephants to a better-equipped sanctuary.
Though the zoo’s spokeswoman, Susan O’Cain, did not address the issue of the deaths of the two elephants raised by the organization, she noted that the zoo is an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
“Riverbanks provides the highest standards of animal care, helping species live longer, healthier lives,” O’Cain said. “Riverbanks staff works every day to provide our elephants with stimulating and enriching activities to promote the animals’ physical and psychological well-being.”
O’Cain also said the zoo is in “full compliance with AZA accreditation standards that require space to house a minimum of three elephants.”
The Myrtle Beach Safari was included in the list for “Bubbles,” an African elephant featured in a video in which women and men in bathing suits are seen riding her, jumping from her into the water and climbing up her face.
The organization is critical of Bubbles’ treatment.Bubbles has lived without the company of other elephants since 1984. Bubbles was rescued when her wild herd was killed for their ivory, according to the safari’s website.
Doc Antle, the founder and director of Myrtle Beach Safari, lamented the organization’s criticism without reaching out to the safari first. He stressed the safari is regulated and in compliance with all USDA regulations.
“Further, we do not allow anyone to climb on Bubbles’ face,” Antle said. “In fact, no human can walk up to Bubbles and climb-up on her, without Bubbles’ help. Much like humans, she determines who she likes and who she doesn’t like.”
Antle also said Bubbles does not live by herself. He said she lives “with me and my family,” and that she has “spent many, many years in the company of other elephants and animals.”
Cynthia Roldán: @CynthiaRoldan
Reporter’s note: This story has been updated to reflect a comment from the Myrtle Beach Safari.
10 worst zoos
1. Topeka Zoo, Topeka, Kansas
2. Pittsburgh Zoo and International Conservation Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
3. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Omaha, Nebraska
4. Louisville Zoo, Louisville, Kentucky
5. Oregon Zoo, Portland, Oregon
6. Myrtle Beach Safari, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina
7. Two Tails Ranch, Williston, Florida
8. St. Louis Zoo, St. Louis, Missouri
9. Natural Bridge Zoo, Rockbridge County, Virginia
10. Riverbanks Zoo and Garden, Columbia, South Carolina
Source: In Defense of Animals