Newborn elephant calf ‘Zuli’ at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2018. Photo by Ken Bohn / San Diego Zoo Global

San Diego Zoo Global is praised worldwide for efforts to breed vanishing species from the northern white rhinoceros to the Hawaiian palila, but that didn’t stop an animal rights group from criticizing the zoo’s breeding of endangered elephants.

In Defense of Animals, located in San Rafael in elite Marin County, ranked the San Diego Zoo as one of the 10 worst for elephants in North America on Thursday because the breeding efforts ultimately separated elephant families. The ranking earned the zoo a top headline Saturday on the notorious Drudge Report.

“San Diego Zoo Global earned a spot on the 10 worst zoos for elephants list in 2019 for its treatment of four young brothers as afterthoughts, abruptly sending them to other zoos, separating them from their families,” said Fleur Dawes, communications director of the organization. “Elephants depend strongly on their social structures and severing the decade-long bonds of these young elephants has likely caused them trauma.”

The elephants, aged between nine and 10, were sent to zoos in Alabama and Georgia as part of the international Species Survival Plan that seeks to maintain vulnerable elephant populations.

In Defense of Animals called on the San Diego Zoo to end its breeding program and phase out the Safari Park’s elephant herd.

“We urge San Diego Zoo Global to stop breeding elephants and stop pretending elephants don’t notice or care when their companionships are broken apart,” said Dawes.

In Defense of Animals was founded in 1983 and has been headed by psychiatrist Marilyn Kroplick since 2011. According to the organization’s website, “Her passion for animal rights was ignited in 2002 after purchasing a puppy from a pet store who became terribly sick.”

The zoo did not respond to a request for comment on the criticisms by In Defense of Animals.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.