WINSTON, Ore. -- For the second year in a row, the Wildlife Safari has made an animal protection organization's list of the top ten worst zoos for elephants, but officials at the park say the group is just looking for attention.
Last year, the group 'In Defense of Animals' listed the Wildlife Safari as number eight on their list of the top ten worst zoos for elephants.
Officials say the park made the list last year because of the elephant car wash.
This year, the Wildlife Safari comes in at number nine. Officials with IDA said the park made it on the list this year because of events that featured Alice and George dancing, wearing costumes and putting on performances. "Basically, it's using the elephants more like circus clowns than treating them in a more dignified manor that actually would send a positive conservation message," said Catherine Doyle, the elephant campaign director for IDA.
The Safari's executive director says the performances are part of the animal's enrichment programs, and George and Alice truly enjoy the activities. Dan Van Slyke told KPIC News, "It's really fun for the elephants, their eyes get really big and they really enjoy it."
The Wildlife Safari is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, a standard that less than 10% of animal parks in the nation achieve.
Part of the requirements to get the nod by the AZA is enrichment programs, which are small games and activities that keep the animals entertained.
So, Van Slyke says it may look like a performance, but it's actually fun for the animals. "If you can have them participate in activities, it really enriches their lives. They're not just laying around, sleeping, bored," he said. "And so, all of these activities, including the little presentation we put together with the elephants, it's all about enrichment."
Doyle disagrees, calling the acts undignified. "Many zoos actually do use enrichments for elephants, but they don't use elephants in ways in which they have them dancing, they have them wearing silly berets, holding up flags. And, you know, basically using this to entertain the public," she said.
Van Slyke says that he doesn't put much stock into IDA's list, and says that the Wildlife Safari will continue to let the public watch the elephant's enrichment programs.