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Oklahoma City Zoo responds to grievances from animal welfare group

Elephants explore the water at the Oklahoma City Zoo.
Josh Hunt
Elephants explore the water at the Oklahoma City Zoo.

The Oklahoma City Zoo is pushing back on criticism leveled by an animal welfare organization that opposes captivity for all elephants. In Defense of Animals released annual rankings on the treatment of elephants and put OKC’s zoo at seventh worst in the country due to concerns over breeding elephants in captivity.

Elephant Curator Rachel Emory says the zoo breeds ethically and cares for its animals with an eye toward the future.

“Without breeding elephants in human care, the stark reality of the situation is kids — our children and great-grandchildren — will never see an elephant because the populations are declining rapidly. We’re working to have a sustainable human care population here,” said Emory.

Emory said IDA is using deceptive tactics, like claiming a video of two male elephants socializing shows roughness brought on by stress between a male and a female elephant.

Courtney Scott with IDA emphasizes that the world's largest land animal shouldn’t be bred in confinement. She says the lessons zoo elephants may impart to kids are distorted.

“So what are they learning? Basically, how prisoners adapt to their prison. That's not the same as learning how a wild elephant — a very intelligent, complex, socially evolved species — really behaves in its home country,” said Scott.

The Oklahoma City Zoo is home to a herd of Asian elephants, the second heaviest animals on land behind the African bush elephant. Both species are endangered due to habitat loss and other human-caused conflicts.

The zoo estimates more than one million people visit annually.

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.