This article is over 13 years old


Animal Group Says Houston Zoo Mistreats Elephants

An animal advocacy group is once again calling the Houston Zoo one of the ten worst in North America for elephants — accusing the zoo of inhumane and disrepectful treatment. But the zoo says the claims are not based in truth.

More from David Pitman.



To embed this piece of audio in your site, please use this code:

<iframe src="" style="height: 115px; width: 100%;"></iframe>

This is the third year the Houston Zoo has made the list put out by the group In Defense of Animals, which also says the zoos in San Antonio, Toronto, Honolulu and the Bronx come up short in how they treat their elephants.

IDA campaign director Catherine Doyle says a source in the zoo industry, whom she declined to name, told the group that the Houston Zoo uses training methods based on punishment, with an instrument called a bullhook. 

“This is a device that is designed to inflict pain and discomfort on elephants.  And so powerful is the negative association with the bullhook that elephants who have not seen a bullhook in years will still respond if one is pulled out.”

Doyle also has a problem with the zoo using the elephant named Methai for holiday photos with zoo visitors that cost $40 per sitting.

“I mean, this sends a very wrong message about elephants, and about having respect for these animals, especially for the Asian elephant which is a highly-endangered animal.”

Zoo spokesman Brian Hill says if IDA representatives had been around during the photo sessions with Methai, they would’ve had a completely different impression.

“If anything, this was a very personal experience that motivated more people to care and learn more about elephant and elephant conservation after they’d had this incredible experience with Methai.”

And Hill takes issue with IDA’s claim that elephant handlers harm their three bulls and two cows with the instrument the IDA refers to as a bullhook.

“It is not used for punishment.  It is used in the same manner you might use the leash on your dog to tug in a particular direction to ask the animal to move in a particular direction.”

The IDA says the zoo has been a hot spot for a herpes virus that has claimed the lives of more than a dozen elephants.  The zoo says it has worked with the Baylor College of Medicine to develop a test that can lead to quicker diagnosis and more effective treatment.  How well that test works could be determined this year.. one of the zoo’s elephants is expected to deliver in April, the other is due in October.

Today in Houston Newsletter Signup
We're in the process of transitioning services for our Today in Houston newsletter. If you'd like to sign up now, fill out the form below and we will add you as soon as we finish the transition. **Please note** If you are already signed up for the newsletter, you do not need to sign up again. Your subscription will be migrated over.
David Pitman

David Pitman

Host & Announcer

David was HPM's local Morning Edition host from 2009 to 2020 — when he was moved to the position of Technical Director of Houston Matters with Craig Cohen, and Town Square with Ernie Manouse. David has extensive public and commercial broadcast journalism and production experience dating back to 1993 –...

More Information