Pittsburgh Zoo Under Fire for Ordering Dogs to Harass Elephants

PETA Calls On Zoo to End Old-Style ‘Free Contact’ System and Manage Elephants in a Safer Way

For Immediate Release:
October 30, 2014

David Perle 202-483-7382


Today, PETA sent a letter to Pittsburgh Zoo President and CEO Dr. Barbara Baker asking her to end the zoo’s practice of using dogs to “herd” resident elephants. Video footage of the practice shows elephants displaying obvious signs of distress, including flapping their ears and trumpeting, as they’re chased and apparently nipped by dogs at the command of zoo staff. In addition to the obvious stress that this causes the elephants, the dogs are in danger of being accidentally stepped on and killed or purposely attacked and thrown in the air by the agitated elephants.

PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—is asking the zoo to follow the lead of most zoos, including the San Diego Zoo, and adopt a protocol called “protected contact.” Protected contact is a carefully conceived, well-researched method of elephant management in which ropes, chains, and bullhooks—sharp metal weapons that resemble a fireplace poker and are which are currently used against elephants at the Pittsburgh Zoo—are not used. Barriers always separate elephants and handlers, protecting both.

“The Pittsburgh Zoo saw firsthand what an elephant can do when a handler was killed by one in 2002, so officials shouldn’t be blind to the danger of siccing dogs on the elephants as a cheap way to move these sensitive and powerful animals,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders. “PETA is calling on the Pittsburgh Zoo to follow the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ directive to minimize direct contact with elephants—and that means by using protective barriers, not dogs.”

For more information, please visit PETA.org.


PETA’s letter to the Pittsburgh Zoo follows.



October 30, 2014


Dr. Barbara Baker
President and CEO
Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium


Dear Dr. Baker:

I’m writing on behalf of PETA and its more than 3 million members and supporters to urge the Pittsburgh Zoo to prioritize the welfare of animals and staff by ending its practice of using dogs to “herd” resident elephants. Footage of this practice shows elephants in obvious distress and exhibiting threatening behavior, including flapping their ears and trumpeting, as they are chased and reportedly “nipped” by dogs at the command of staff members. In addition to causing the elephants stress, the dogs are in danger of being accidentally stepped on or even deliberately attacked by the elephants. A former zoo veterinarian with more than three decades of experience working with elephants viewed the video footage and opined that “elephants are considered to have sensitive skin on their feet and legs, and if the Australian cattle dogs are nipping the legs of the elephants for controlling purposes this practice should end, as it will only serve to increase the aberrant behavior of the elephants ….”

Because of the tragic fatal elephant attack at the Pittsburgh Zoo in 2002, your facility has firsthand knowledge of the power that elephants can unleash without warning. Introducing dogs serves only to antagonize the already unpredictable animals with strong protective instincts, and no amount of experience can defend against angry elephants. As advocated by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, absolutely minimizing direct contact is the only way to prevent keeper injuries. Placing dogs between elephants and staff members is no substitute for real protective barriers.

Surely, the publicity generated by this practice does not outweigh the risks posed to the elephants, dogs, and handlers. Please put an end to this stunt before someone is hurt—or worse—and follow the example of progressive facilities across the country, including the Oakland Zoo, the North Carolina Zoo, and the San Diego Zoo by adopting protected-contact elephant management without delay.

Very truly yours,

Brittany Peet, Esq.
Deputy Director | Captive Animal Law Enforcement
PETA Foundation

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