12 Worst Zoos in the U.S. For Cruel Conditions

For many years, zoos have raised concerns about the ethical treatment of animals. Should humans be able to peer at wild animals in makeshift native environments behind glass enclosures? Why are polar bears in Pittsburgh? Some zoos try to maintain rehabilitation programs for animals who would not survive in the wild in an attempt to one day release them back to their native habitats, but is that the right thing to do? We’ve compiled a list of the 12 worst zoos in the U.S. that steer clear of rehabilitation and rescue programs and, sadly, operate under cruel conditions.

1. Three Bears General Store

Three little brown bear cubs walking in a row in the taiga from Finland
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This roadside attraction in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, serves as a complementing attraction to the general store stocked with souvenirs. Three Asiatic bears live in one 5,000 sq. ft concrete enclosure and entertain visitors. In the wild, these bears live in areas between four and 22 square miles. At the same time, reports state the bears fight frequently and don’t receive adequate care, food, or water.

2. Alligator Adventure

American Alligator along Myakka River in Myakka River State Park in Sarasota Florida USA
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The popular Spring Break destination, Myrtle Beach, invites guests to indulge in the wonders of Alligator Adventure, a zoo for gators, scaly reptiles, and big cats. Past guests claim they didn’t know they’d see bobcats trapped in small enclosures when they paid to see the alligators. The big cats don’t have the space to run or explore as they need. Plus, for a small fee, you can pet the big cats.

3. Birmingham Zoo

Asian elephants eating carrots with their trunks at a zoo
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Birmingham Zoo is one of the worst zoos for elephants. The zoo separated a group of elephants bonded for life to breed them at separate locations. The zoo’s dwindling condition causes the public’s eyebrows to rise as animals prowl through dilapidated habitats. On the primates’ side, they don’t have enough space inside their enclosures to hide or roam.

4. Fresno Chaffee Zoo

indian elephants at the zoo
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Here is another zoo that made it on the worst for elephants list. One of the reasons this zoo captures the attention of so many animal rights activists is due to the cramped space the elephants have. In the wild, elephants walk up to 16 miles a day. Additionally, an animal rights group took the zoo to court in an attempt to release elephants from captivity in zoos. 

5. Topeka Zoo

A closeup shot of elephants in Topeka zoo in Kansas in the USA
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Even though this zoo has earned a whopping amount of animal rights violations, it continues to mistreat and neglect the animals in its care. A shocking incident occurred where an elephant passed away after workers learned of her disease, and refused to treat her illness.

6. Portland Zoo

White mountain goat sun-bathing on a rocky slope.
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In this Oregon zoo, many animals have passed away under the care of the workers. Some animals died soon after arriving, after surgery, or due to lack of care. On the other hand, the zoo refuses to release sick, older animals. Instead, they ensure visitors know to visit these elder creatures to marvel at their age, making it one of the worst zoos in America.

7. Dallas Zoo

A closeup shot of a monkey on wooden bars in Topeka zoo in Kansas USA
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Recently, strange instances occurred at the Dallas Zoo in succession. A few monkeys and a clouded leopard went missing, a vulture had fatal wounds on his face, and someone had severed the wire trapping the monkeys in their habitat. Before these odd happenings occurred, the Dallas Zoo took several elephants from their home in Eswatini and put them in the elephant display. The elephants were sedated, hauled onto a plane, and flown to Texas.

8. Cameron Park Zoo

Two Spotted Leopards at Dallas Zoo
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Trash accumulates in the animals’ living quarters, elephants live in isolation, and injured animals pace through their designated premises at the Cameron Park Zoo. Workers ignore the needs of the wild creatures, and these animals don’t receive proper vet care. Instead, the zoo uses elephants for humans to gawk at.

9. Memphis Zoo

Two hippo calfs in Saint Lucia, South Africa
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The Memphis Zoo has previous ties to the circus, homing multiple animals that endured brutal lives in the circus industry before landing at the zoo. The space allocated for the hippos resembles a hippo-sized kiddie pool, and dirt and trash decorate the Tennesee zoo.

10. Myrtle Beach Safari

eye level shot of wild female bengal tiger or tigress close up or portrait with eye contact in hot summer season safari at ranthambore national park sawai madhopur rajasthan india - panthera tigris
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Remember at the beginning of the pandemic when Tiger King engrossed our attention, and we learned of some of the most inhumane animal facilities in the U.S.? The show mentioned Myrtle Beach Safari, and for good reason. Guests can interact and take pictures with the wild animals, placing their lives and the animals’ safety at risk, tearing baby animals from their mothers, and, to top it all off, the zoo’s owner trafficked the sole elephant residing in the zoo. So much for the worst zoo in the US.

11. Pittsburgh Zoo

Elephant - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
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One customer says the Pittsburgh Zoo is a depressing glimpse into the reality of zoos in America. The orangutans sat in a concrete pit with no natural light, and the other animals, which should be living among others in their species, dwelled in isolation. Plus, the elephants stomp around on concrete, which causes damage to their limbs.

12. Natural Bridge Zoo

An American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), in a Florida swamp
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Located in Virginia, this zoo lets guests sit atop wild animals such as alligators and elephants while the animals receive beatings if they do not cooperate. Several inhabitants go days without proper care for their injuries, and the zoo has garnered almost 150 citations for animal welfare violations, which makes it the worst zoo in America.

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