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OKLAHOMA CITY – An animal protection organization has released a list that claims the Oklahoma City Zoo is the worst zoo in the nation for elephants.

The “In Defense of Animals” group placed the Oklahoma City Zoo at the top of its “Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America 2016” for its “part in creating a devastatingly tragic outcome for generations of elephants.”

The IDA based its ranking on the death of two elephants at the Oklahoma City Zoo.

In January 2016, zookeepers announced the death of Chai, a 37-year-old female Asian elephant, who arrived in May 2015 from Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.

At the time, veterinarians and staff at the zoo said Chai had undergone regular checkups and appeared to be healthy.

However, they later said that she suffered from tooth abnormalities that led to her not getting the nutrition she needed.

The IDA claims Chai’s health problems began not long after her arrival in Oklahoma City.

“Not long after her arrival in Oklahoma, Chai lost about 1000 pounds, and was found on the ground three times in one week. On two occasions she needed to be mechanically hoisted up,” the IDA stated on its website. “She also had a bacterial infection in her bloodstream, likely caused by 25 clearly visible pus-filled abscesses that went untreated, among her other chronic health problems. Yet the Oklahoma Zoo had the audacity to say that there were “no red flags” before her death.”

The IDA released video of Chai being hoisted on a crane after she was reportedly unable to stand up.

The IDA also claims that the other elephant that was transferred to the Oklahoma City Zoo from the Woodland Park Zoo, Bamboo, has been repeatedly attacked by the other elephants and is often kept in isolation due to these attacks since her arrival.

In October 2015, a beloved four-year-old Asian elephant named Malee died of a viral infection, identified as the endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV), 1A strain.

In September 2016, the youngest Malee’s sister, Achara, who was 21 months old at the time, tested positive for the same deadly virus.

Staff started giving Achara antiviral medications.

Fortunately, Achara survived the illness.

The IDA said the deadly virus may have spread due to negligence at the Oklahoma City Zoo.

“… the Oklahoma City Zoo failed to heed warnings that both Bamboo and Chai had been exposed to the Herpes virus and that importing these two elephants could introduce this disease to the resident calves, Malee and Achara,” the IDA said on its website. “Since Bamboo and Chai arrived, Malee died from the same strain of the virus, and Achara contracted but survived the virus.”

The Oklahoma City Zoo responded to the IDA’s ranking, calling the organization’s claims “unsubstantiated” and “misleading.”

“In Defense of Animals (IDA) uses deceitful tactics to manipulate the public in an effort to further their anti-zoo agenda,” the zoo said in a statement.

Officials with the zoo said the video released by the IDA of Chai undergoing an emergency care procedure was accompanied by “false information” about the health and well-being of the elephants at the zoo.

“In its recent press release, the animal rights group uses a photo and video of Chai that was taken at the Zoo’s elephant habitat during a veterinary procedure where straps were used to help support Chai when she was unable to stand.  This is a common medical procedure to assist large animals unable to stand up. IDA is exploiting and positioning this image in a negative way to gain sympathizers. Chai was calm and cooperative during this necessary procedure, which reflects the positive relationship she had with the animal care team. Chai was receiving medical care due to significant congenital defects to her teeth and jaws that led to her deteriorating health and ultimate death in January 2016.  Our animal care team cared for her deeply and is still grieved by her loss,” officials with the zoo stated in a press release.

Zoo officials say that despite the IDA’s claims, Bamboo is “healthy and doing great.”

“During her integration process with the herd, she received a minor tail wound in March 2016, which has long since healed. These interactions are typical and expected as the animals form new relationships and establish dominance hierarchy. Developing these relationships is a normal and necessary process of group assimilation and becoming a family, or herd. Bamboo has learned to follow the matriarch and has integrated well with the other elephants. Bamboo currently spends more time with Asha and younger herd mates Achara and Kandula.  These positive interactions support what experts know about the importance of social opportunities and multi-generational herds. In fact, the latest scientific research on elephant welfare validates the importance of multi-generational herds for providing elephants with optimal welfare. This enriching environment would not have been available to Bamboo had she been moved to a sanctuary rather than the zoo. Bamboo is home and we are very proud to be able to love and care for her in this late stage of her life,” the zoo’s statement read.

The OKC Zoo has contributed over $230,000 in the last year for conservation efforts to save wildlife, including Asian and African elephants.

Other zoos that made the list of the IDA’s “Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America 2016” include:

  1. Oklahoma City Zoo, Oklahoma
  2. Natural Bridge Zoo, Rockbridge County, Virginia
  3. Honolulu Zoo, Hawaii
  4. Edmonton Valley Zoo, Alberta, Canada
  5. Oregon Zoo, Portland, Oregon
  6. Buffalo Zoo, Bulffalo, New York
  7. Wildlife Safari, Winston, Oregon
  8. Pittzburgh Zoo, Pennsylvania
  9. Milwaukee County Zoo, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  10. Fort Worth Zoo, Fort Worth, Texas