Cincinnati Zoo Could Lose Accreditation Over Dangerous Photo Ops With Elephants

PETA Tips Off Zoo Association to Prohibited Unprotected Contact Between Elephant and Members of the Public

For Immediate Release:
September 18, 2015

Sophia Charchuk 202-483-7382

Cincinnati, Ohio

A recent photograph on a blog post shows two visitors to the Cincinnati Zoo posing dangerously close to a captive elephant while, nearby, a zookeeper holds a bullhook—a weapon that resembles a fireplace poker with a sharp metal hook on one end. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) prohibits unprotected contact between elephants and members of the public and requires that its members maintain a safe barrier between zookeepers and elephants—a practice that should make cruel bullhooks obsolete. That’s why PETA fired off a letter to the AZA today urging the organization to require the Cincinnati Zoo to end these dangerous photo opportunities or revoke the facility’s accreditation.

“Since an elephant can crush a human being with a single step, it’s egregiously irresponsible for a zoo to send visitors into an enclosure for a photo op,” says PETA Foundation Deputy Director Brittany Peet. “The Cincinnati Zoo must end these dangerous stunts or its accreditation if it refuses.”

Since 1990, frustrated captive elephants have caused more than 135 human injuries and 17 human deaths. PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—calls on all facilities with captive elephants to adopt a protocol called “protected contact.” Protected contact is a carefully conceived, well-researched method of elephant management in which ropes, chains, and bullhooks are not used. Barriers always separate elephants and handlers, protecting both.

For more information, please visit

PETA’s letter to Jim Anderson, chair of the Accreditation Commission at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, follows.

September 18, 2015

Jim Anderson, Chair
Accreditation Commission
Association of Zoos and Aquariums

Re:      Dangerous Public Contact With Elephants at the Cincinnati Zoo

Dear Mr. Anderson,

I am writing on behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to request that the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) investigate the Cincinnati Zoo for allowing members of the public and a keeper to enter an elephant enclosure and share unrestricted space with an elephant, in violation of the AZA’s Standards for Elephant Management and Care and policy on Maximizing Occupational Safety of Elephant Care Professionals.

A September 15, 2015, blog post on (PDF enclosed) shows photographs of the author and her partner standing just in front of an elephant with nothing but a single strand of electric wire between them. A keeper holding a bullhook is also visible in a photograph. According to the author, the photos were taken at the Cincinnati Zoo, where “[w]e were able to go into their enclosure and say hello and get a little snuggle in” with the elephants. Moreover, the zoo’s website offers private behind-the-scenes encounters with elephants for $500 to $1,000.

This dangerous and irresponsible stunt is an egregious violation of the AZA’s requirement that elephant enclosures “must prohibit direct contact between elephants and the visitors” and that humans “shall not share the same unrestricted space with elephants.” Standards for Elephant Management and Care, 4.2.2 (2014); see also Maximizing Occupational Safety of Elephant Care Professionals (2011). Moreover, there must be “a primary containment barrier between human and elephant,” and “the use of electric fences is not sufficient as a primary containment barrier.” Standards for Elephant Management and Care

Just as the Pittsburgh Zoo recently forfeited its AZA accreditation because the association took a firm stance on its sensible and prudent safety standards, the AZA must reconsider its accreditation of the Cincinnati Zoo as long as the zoo continues to allow these dangerous elephant encounters. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Very truly yours,
Rachel Mathews
Counsel | Captive Animal Law Enforcement
PETA Foundation

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