Oregon Zoo Health Status

(From Medical Records)

The following medical records are for seven elephants who lived at Oregon Zoo during the years 2000 to mid-2005. Hugo died (age 43) in 2003, reportedly due to high coliform levels in the exhibit pool water. Since IDA acquired these records, Pet died (age 51) in 2006 from foot disease and arthritis; the Zoo acquired the bull elephant Tusko in 2005 from Have Trunk Will Travel, an outfit that rents out elephants for rides and use in television and film; and Rose-Tu gave birth to a male calf in 2008.

IDA is currently working to obtain updated records from the Portland Zoo.


Each of the 6 Oregon Zoo elephants suffers from foot disease (cracked nails, abscesses, lesions, ulcers, fissures, fractured toes). (The number does not include Hugo, who also had suffered from chronic nail infections prior to his death.) The problems require frequent to almost daily intervention from keepers to flush infected areas and debride (cut away) necrotic (dead) tissue. Even the youngest elephants suffer from foot problems. Chendra, an orphan from Malaysia, developed foot problems within 2 months of coming to the Oregon Zoo.

Several of the elephants also suffer from arthritis.

Ankus wounds have been identified on at least four of the zoo's 6 elephants. In 2000, the USDA formally charged the Oregon Zoo with violating the Animal Welfare Act in the abuse of Rose-Tu, who had ankus wounds all over her body. These charges do not seem to have deterred Oregon Zoo keepers from aggressive ankus use, as ankus wounds were identified on elephants for several years following these charges.

Behavioral problems in the records include: stereotypical swaying and pacing, aggressive acts against other elephants, and bulls pounding walls and doors.

Hugo (born ~1960, wild)
Hugo died in 2003 at the estimated age of 43. Hugo had a chronically infected nail on left front foot and nail disease on right front foot as well. Records speculate that soft spots on his right foot "may represent effects of stereotypie or excessive time on concrete." Keepers had trouble treating Hugo's foot problems due to aggressive behavior, especially during his frequent periods of musth. In Oct. 2002, zoo staff reduced Hugo's daily food intake in the hope that his musth periods would be shorter. His records note that Hugo's "feedings will be used to encourage him not to pound on walls and doors and encourage him to load in restraint devices so things like routine bleedings and foot work can be done."

Records indicate that zoo staff repeatedly performed invasive procedures on Hugo. In 1999, for months they collected semen from Hugo twice a week through a "rectal palpitation" method. In 2000, they performed transrectal ultrasound tests on him just to test out machines the zoo was considering for purchase. Hugo was also placed on an ibuprofen study that required frequent blood collections (through venipuncture) over 48-72 hour periods. For each bleeding, Hugo had to be placed in the elephant restraint device, at least once he was left in it for four hours until the next bleeding.

On January 18, 2003 at 6:15 a.m., Hugo was found lying down on his side. For the next two days, the zoo used belts, straps and hoists to right Hugo and keep him standing. "Many hours of pulling and repositioning straps were not successful. At times breathing appeared restrained from bands lifting neck up." By January 20 at 10 p.m., Hugo had mucous saliva dripping from mouth and rolled back in the sockets. Hugo died while the zoo was "trying to get him to stand."

A necropsy determined that Hugo's body had extreme muscle waste and no normal body fat. His digestive tract had ulcers, bruises and hematomas. His right shoulder joint had moderate osteoarthritis. The zoo blamed extremely high coliform levels in the exhibit pool water for Hugo's death.

Pet (born ~1955, wild; died 8/2/06 at Portland Zoo)
This wild-caught female died at age 51 from foot disease (osteomyelitis) and arthritis. She suffered for years from severe foot disease – recurrent lesions,, abscesses, ulcers, defects, cracked and undermined nails, etc. that required almost daily intervention from keepers. Her records contain voluminous notes about cleaning out infections, lesions and pockets in her feet and constant debridement of lesions– cutting away of dead, necrotic tissue. There are numerous references in the records to pain that Pet is in after what vets term "atraumatic foot trims." They note that she remains in "prolonged lateral recumbency after foot trimmings. At one point (Dec. 21, 2002) vets note that a lesion covering 20 percent of Pet's caudal sole would not be debrided as "it would leave no protective layer for Pet to stand on. On 24 Dec 02, the records indicate that the 10 cm defect on this foot has left the fatty tissue under the skin exposed. Pet's feet are so damaged that she is frequently made to wear sandals.

A March 9, 2002 note in the records diagnosed her with "severe DJD (Degenerative Joint Disease) in all four limbs" and a June 12, 2002 entry noted "chronic debilitation and multiple joint pain." Radiographs of her feet show complete collapse of intercarpal joint spaces, bone lysis and osteophyte formation. An 8 February 2001 entry notes that the DJD is "probably a result of poor conformation, age and having lived most of her adult life on concrete and asphalt surfaces."

Notes throughout the records indicate that Pet was in significant pain. Keepers saw her using her trunk as a crutch to take weight off her right front foot and she had been regularly observed to lift her right foot every 30 seconds or so, clearly indicating pain. Pet had been on high doses of many kinds of pain medications, including Ibuprofen, Legend, and Adequin, and butorphenol has been used so frequently that Pet at times appeared "drugged."

Pet also developed pressure sores from lying on her left side on the hard indoor floor. Although vets recommended a softer surface for Pet to lie on, it does not appear that the zoo provided this for Pet.

Most disturbing, this clearly suffering elephant suffered from numerous wounds to her skin as a result of aggressive ankus use. On nine separate occasions between 2000 and 2004, vets diagnosed ankus wounds (abscesses, punctures penetrating dermis, lacerations, lesions) on her trunk, feet, shoulders, head, back, hip and ear. On Nov. 22, 2003, veterinarians reported "a problem with ankus use on Pet" to curatorial staff. Keepers acknowledged using the ankus more on Pet, in chronic pain from severe DJD and foot disease, to "maintain her activity level so she just doesn't stand around." Vets write that it would be nice to accomplish this "in a manner which causes less trauma to her skin." A Dec. 21, 2003 entry indicates that "Pet may have sustained numerous new ankus contact injuries today as keepers communicated poorly about commands given and Pet was reprimanded in the process."

In 2000, the Oregon Zoo was charged by USDA for violating the Animal Welfare Act in the abuse of Rose-Tu with an ankus, but these serious charges do not appear to have had an impact on Portland keepers, as Pet's records show ankus abuse continuing.

Despite all of Pet's problems, on July 6, 1999, she was chained for a reproductive exam. Vets concluded that "her reproductive tract would probably be healthy enough to carry a pregnancy, unfortunately her feet are not."

Also, in Dec 2002, the zoo decided to put the debilitated Pet together with Rama, a young bull, to reduce his "stereotypical swaying, which is causing him foot wear problems." Vets speculated that the pairing might have made Pet move more too but worried that "Rama may be too rough with old Pet." Later entries indicate that Rama had roughed up Pet, opening an abscess on her back that had formed due to an ankus wound.

Chendrawasi (Chendra) – (born ~1993 wild)
This 13 year old female was orphaned and hand-reared in Malaysia. She is on loan from the Malaysian government. Re-occurring medical problems include chronic bilateral middle ear disease (otitis – inflammation of middle ear, infection, discharge, etc.), anemia, and skin allergies. She is permanently blind in her left eye from an injury received in Malaysia.

Chendra's records show a strong case for how quickly elephants' feet become damaged once in captivity as there are records included of her foot condition prior to coming from Malaysia. Within just two months she begins to have chronic foot problems. stereotypcial Also, she was radiographed with no defects upon coming to the zoo and within a year has problems with fractured toes probably as a result of overgrown nails. Stereotypical behavior starts right as she was brought off the truck from her journey. A November 21, 1999 entry states: "Strong tendency toward stereotypical behaviors. Her pacing is special concern given the hard flooring she is now on for the first time. Main immediate concern is foot ulceration due to excessive wear. Vets. Recommend extra bedding in her stalls to ease the transition for her feet from "forest and river ground to the hard flooring of captivity."

On April 19, 2003 vets note a "classical nail abscess" which is "pretty alarming in an animal this young and small."

Chendra also shows signs of ankus wounds. October 22, 2002 entry records "mild skin trauma related to ankus use." On that date, a visitor had submitted a complaint about ankus use and reported seeing Chendra shy away from the ankus. May 2003 skin nicks found all over left front limb metacarpal area "as though she were heavily cured with an ankus on this limb. Keepers "may cure her more frequently and aggressively on this side because it's her blind side." Other puncture wounds and abscesses also noted that are possibly ankus related.

Chendra shows some behavioral problems. Note in record about swaying while chained for bath, and tearing up rubber matting and possibly ingesting pieces. She also has been injured numerous times by aggression from Shine, and was thought to be ingesting sand due to the fact that Shine was taking hay away from Chendra.

Rose-Tu (Rose or Rosey) – (born 8/31/94 at Portland Zoo)
This female was born at the Oregon Zoo and is the survivor of a set of twins. She was born first but her twin did not survive. Her mother Me-Tu and her father Hugo are both dead. She was weaned at 1.5 years of age. She has kicked her handler when having her rear leg chained and is characterized as flighty and stubborn and extremely dependant on the herd.

On April 17, 2000, four-and-a-half-year old Rose was abused by a keeper with an ankus. An exam on April 19 found multiple puncture wounds on her head, behind her ears, on both shoulders and on both rear limbs. There were also two puncture wounds in the soft skin between the anus and the base of the tail. Rose also ha a 15-inch long laceration over the top left gluteal area. She became agitated during the exam, especially when her tail area was examined, and further lesions could not be identified.

Rose's abuse at her keepers hands was so severe as to warrant the USDA to file charges against the Oregon Zoo for Animal Welfare Act violations a step rarely taken against a zoological institution. Three months later, vets noted "superficial scars around the perineal area from ankus abuse."

Although she is a young elephant, Rose has foot problems, cracked and overgrown nails, sole fissures and bone fractures in the P2 and P3 digits of her back feet. Records attribute to "possible substrate problem" or "repetitive stress injury.

Rose has also been diagnosed as overweight.

Sung-Surin (Shine) – (born 12/26/82 at Portland Zoo)
This female was born at the Oregon Zoo. She has chronic foot problems. The records start in 1996, when she is just 13.5 years old. AT that time she has an infected nail lesion on her right front foot that is chronic through end of records (2005). This nail lesion/abscess has frequent "blowouts." By July 04 the lesion has extended to the space between nails 4 and 5. She also has fractured and abnormal toes.

Foot problems are mentioned in nearly every entry in her records 1996-2005. Several mentions of "copious bleeding" after debriding foot ulcer. In Nov. 1999, a power sander was used to "rough up" the bottom of her sole. Foot condition steadily declines over this period. In Feb. 2004, a change in the angulation of her right limb is noted and vets believe it is beginning of degenerative joint disease (DJD). Also note that it appears that she is dragging her foot when she walks.

Shine is diagnosed as obese.

Shine also has numerous ankus wounds on triceps area (Aug 26, 2000), trunk (Dec. 27, 2000), trunk again (April 6, 2002), shoulder and foot (April 6, 2002).

Packy – (born 4/14/62 at Portland Zoo)
This male was the first calf born at the Oregon Zoo to Belle and Thonglow.

Packy has chronic problems with cracked nails, lesions, abscess on right front foot.. He also has a recurring abscess/lesion on the left side of head from lying on concrete floor, and a hygroma on the right side of his head. Diagnosed as emaciated January 31, 03.

Foot injury from kicking at door ("which he's apt to do"). Possible ankus wound on right front limb January 24, 2001.

Packy has sired a number of calves. He has also been the object of repeated attempts to extract sperm (through rectal palpitation and use of artificial vaginas) for artificial insemination. He has also been placed on Dr. Ursula Bechert's Ibuprofen and Phenylbutazone dosage studies which require repeated restraint and bleedings.

Rama – (born April 1, 1983 at Portland Zoo)
Rama, a male, was born at the Oregon Zoo to Rosy and Packy. His reoccurring medical problems include thin pads on both front feet with chronic ulcers on the pad under Nail #2 of the left foot which abscesses at least once a year. He is treated regularly with Ibuprofen and Cosequin. Left front leg is fused at the elbow, a result of falling into the old moat. He has also been intermittently lame with hyper extended looking elbow joint of the right front leg as well, and has exhibits strange gaits to compensate for the stiff joints. He exhibits stereotypic rocking behavior that seems to increase each time he is in musth and often exacerbates his foot problems. Semen has been collected from rectal palpation, but he has also been trained to an artificial vagina. He has not been put with a cow to breed yet.

A note about Mr. "no science" Mike Keele:
Mr. Keele, who started at the zoo as a security guard, likes to say there is no science to indicate zoo conditions cause any of the problems that plague his and other zoos (foot disease, arthritis, high rate of stillbirths, etc.)

But here is what some real experts have to say about this issue:

Foot problems are seen in 50 percent of captive Asian and African elephants at some time in their life.
Csuti, B., Sargent, E.L., an Bechert, The Elephant's Foot: Prevention and Care of Foot Conditions in Captive Asian and African Elephants, North American Conference on Elephant Foot Carr Iowa State University Press, Ames, 2001

Untreatable foot infections and arthritis are the leading cause of euthanasia of captive elephants
Fowler, M.E. (2001) Elephant Foot Care, concluding remarks. The Elephant's Foot, Csuti, B., Sargent, E.L., an Bechert, U.S., Iowa State University Press, Ames: 147-149

Foot disease and arthritis are widespread among zoo elephants and has become the number one cause of suffering and premature death for elephants at zoos.

Affidavits of Dr. Michael Schmidt and Dr. Joyce Poole, www.idausa.org/news/currentnews/e11a8e18.pdf


Joyce Poole, Ph.D., Research Director, Amboseli Elephant Research Project, Kenya.

In the Amboseli population where the life histories of over 2,000 free-ranging individuals have been followed for 34 years, wild elephants do not develop foot problems (zero cases); they are not seen swaying rhythmically back and forth (zero incidents in over 34,000 sightings of groups containing 1-550 elephants); they do not have difficulties conceiving (two cases of infertility out of 558 females over 10 years old); they do not kill their own infants (zero cases out > 1500 births); they do not attack and kill the individuals with whom they are bonded (zero cases; unlike captive elephants who injure and kill their keepers). All these zero cases in the wild add up to an enormous amount of evidence that elephants need space to be elephants.