elephant eye closeup

Second Elephant in a Year Dies at LA Zoo



Shaunzi, a 53-year-old Asian elephant, was euthanized on January 3, 2024.

A second elephant has been euthanized at the LA Zoo within the span of a year, according to reports from the LA Times.

Shaunzi was euthanized after being seen by staff lying down in her enclosure, unable to get up, the evening before. Just last January, Jewel, who was 61, was euthanized due to a “declining quality of life.”

Born in 1970 in the wild of Thailand, Shaunzi was captured and sent to the United States to perform circus-style tricks until she was sent to the Fresno Chaffee Zoo in 1983. She was transferred to the LA Zoo in 2017.

Elephants don’t belong in captivity and zoos are some of the worst environments for them. Elephants have one of the largest home ranges, often walking up to 40 miles each day. Venues like the LA Zoo leave captive elephants without the ability to walk and forage, which severely impacts their mental health causing stereotypical behavior and psychosis and often leads to foot diseases—one of the most common ailments among captive elephants.

In recent years, many zoos have been sending their elephants to sanctuaries across the United States, which allow elephants a better life, with large areas to roam and forage away from tourists’ eyes.

The Detroit Zoo was the first major zoo in the US to send its elephants, Winky and Wanda, to sanctuaries in April 2005. Both elephants enjoyed life at Performing Animal Welfare Society’s (PAWS) ARK 2000 until their deaths in 2008 and 2015.

Ron L. Kagan, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of The Detroit Zoo, told The Dodo in 2016:

“We had been working for years constantly increasing the size of the elephants’ area. Every time we made those improvements that we thought were important, we then thought, from an elephant’s point of view, it was not. We thought this was ridiculous. We just weren’t able to give the elephants enough room.”

Since the Detroit Zoo’s decision, a number of other zoos, including Zoo Knoxville, have followed and relinquished elephants to sanctuaries. Zoo Knoxville sent elephants Edie and Jana (who passed away in October 2023) to The Elephant Sanctuary in November 2023 and May 2023, respectively. Another elephant, Tonka, will be following them in spring 2024, where they will both be able to enjoy life with other elephants such as Nosey and Sissy.

Rescued African elephant, Mundi, spends her first night at new sanctuary in the United States.

Mundi at Elephant Refuge North America, Georgia, USA.

The Oakland Zoo also moved its last elephant, Donna, to the Elephant Sanctuary in May 2023, and just this past spring, World Animal Protection US helped move Mundi from the Mayaguez Zoo in Puerto Rico to Elephant Refuge North America, a sanctuary in Georgia.

It’s clear: elephants don’t belong in captivity.

Unlike zoos, which put profits over animals, legitimate sanctuaries often have larger and more natural enclosures for animals, and the best sanctuaries are held to higher standards of care for animals, thanks to the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS). The LA Zoo should send its last elephants, Billy and Tina, to an elephant sanctuary in the US to live out the rest of their days.

World Animal Protection is working diligently to protect elephants around the world. Whether it’s working with travel companies like Airbnb to implement strong animal welfare policies prohibiting venues from profiting from wild animal cruelty or transforming once-cruel elephant venues to elephant-friendly ones in Thailand, or rescuing elephants and sending them to sanctuary, we won’t stop until every elephant is free from exploitation.

The best way to protect elephants and keep them in the wild is to never visit a venue that holds them captive. You can also support our work by joining The Wild Side today.

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