Roadside zoo elephants suffered for years before dying, new records reveal

Karen and Beulah, two elephants with the Commerford Zoo, a Connecticut-based traveling animal facility, suffered for several years before their deaths in 2019, according to newly obtained records from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the agency responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act. The enforcement records show both elephants were forced to keep traveling and giving rides to children even when they were ill. Animals advocates say the reports reveal fundamental problems with how such businesses are regulated in the U.S.

Founded in the 1970s by Bob Commerford, the Connecticut-based zoo travels throughout the Northeast with the elephants and other exotic animals, including camels, ringtail lemurs, a kangaroo, and a zebra.

About 70 elephants are held in some of the 3,000 so-called roadside zoos around the U.S., according to Ben Williamson, the programs director at the nonprofit World Animal Protection U.S. These facilities have USDA licenses to exhibit animals, but none are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which mandates higher welfare standards and humane care for 241 institutions across the country. “Poor treatment of [captive] elephants in general is fairly common,” Williamson says.

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