Protect Elephants in Captivity

For decades, Oakland Zoo has been actively involved in initiatives and actions to protect captive elephants from exploitation, mistreatment, mismanagement, and inadequate facilities. The quest to better the lives of elephants in captivity continues. Through the efforts of our partners around the world, coupled with your support, we strive to make the lives of these extraordinary animals better.

Advocate for Protected Contact.

  • In 1991, Oakland Zoo pioneered the “Protected Contact” method in managing captive elephants. Protected Contact means that no human enters the elephant’s habitat. Instead, barriers are kept between zookeepers and elephants,  and care incorporates persuasion through rewards (positive reinforcement) rather than discipline.

  • On behalf of captive elephants everywhere, Oakland Zoo actively advocated for all zoos to adopt the Protected Contact method for managing elephants, thereby abolishing the need to dominate, punish, and use bullhooks in elephant care.

  • By 2019, the AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums)* began requiring all zoos in the United States to phase out bullhook use in their elephant management program(s). Routine use ended January 21,2021, and all use of these weapons has to end by January 1, 2023.

    *Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the national organization that sets the highest standards for animal welfare for zoos and aquariums.

Ban punishing practices.

  • In Oakland and Alameda County, we led the effort to ban bullhook use on elephants, making it impossible for Ringling Bros. Circus to bring and use elephants in their show. The ban became statewide, and was key in Ringling Bros. closing their doors forever, ending the suffering of elephants and other exotic animals in their travelling shows.

  • Following the local effort, we then led the ban on bullhooks, and other instruments of punishment, throughout the State of California. The ban was successfully adopted.

Go to court for elephants' rights.

  • For years, Oakland Zoo has provided consultation and expert testimony in local and national cases against non-accredited (Association of Zoos and Aquariums*) zoos, and circuses, that mismanaged and abused elephants.

  • We provided consultation and expert testimony in a case against a non-accredited zoo accused of treating its elephants inhumanely, and providing them subpar living conditions.

    *Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the national organization that sets the highest standards for animal welfare for zoos and aquariums.

Rescue and relocate elephants.

  • Oakland Zoo provided expertise, transportation, and medical care (administered by then Zoo President & CEO, Dr. Joel Parrott) in moving elephants from circuses to sanctuaries.

  • Examples of trips include moving elephants to a sanctuary in Tennessee and moving elephants from Canada to PAWS (Performing Animal Welfare Society) in California.

Expand education and advocacy.

  • The Conservation Society of California—the organization that manages Oakland Zoo—has led the effort to end the abuse of elephants in the state of California, and everywhere.

  • From guest-facing messaging at our elephant habitat to information provided by Docents and Teen Wild Guides, Oakland Zoo is actively educating the public about elephant protection initiatives.

  • Working with our conservation partners, we'll extend education and advocacy efforts to other states and countries with the goal of reducing—and ultimately eliminating—the exploitation and mistreatment of elephants.

Partnership and progress go hand in hand.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

Performing Animal Wildlife Sanctuary

The Elephant Sanctuary