PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — Animal rights activists are making a clamor with two new billboards alleging bad behavior at the Oregon Zoo.

Elphants at the Oregon Zoo squish and eat pumpkins in Octobe 2018. (Courtesy of the Oregon Zoo) 

The activists say zookeepers have used bullhooks on Chendra, a Borneo pygmy elephant that’s lived in the Oregon enclosure since 1999. The activists say Chendra is “shunned” by the other elephants. 

“Elephants don’t belong in captivity, and they absolutely don’t deserve the cruel mistreatment they have been forced to undergo at the Oregon Zoo,” said protest organizer Lacey Kohlmoos in a news release.

Chendra is blind in her left eye — likely caused by agricultural workers and loggers in Bornea who left the injured orphaned elephant wandering alone with wounds to her front legs. The 25-year-old was rescued by the Sabah Wildlife Department, who found her in a conflict zone where much habitat has been cleared to make room for palm oil plantations, according to the Zoo.

The Oregon Zoo strongly denies all claims of mistreatment.

“Though we disagree with our detractors on some fundamental principles, we are united in our passion for protecting elephants,” said Hova Najarian, communications manager for the Oregon Zoo.

Najarian notes that the Zoo has established a $1 million endowment to protect Asian elephants, which is currently funding two full-time elephant ranger positions with the Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit and funding efforts to create wildlife habitat.

Lily and her mom, Rose-Tu, enjoy a swim in the Oregon Zoo’s new 160,000-gallon pool for pachyderms, Dec. 12, 2015. (Courtesy: Oregon Zoo)
Lily and her mom, Rose-Tu, enjoy a swim in the Oregon Zoo’s new 160,000-gallon pool for pachyderms, Dec. 12, 2015. (Courtesy: Oregon Zoo)

“Because Chendra was so young and could not be reunited with her herd or released back into the wild, the Sabah government reached out to us, and we were able to give her a home here, where she’s part of the elephant family,” Najarian said.

Portland Animal Save and In Defense of Animals announced a planned protest at the Oregon Zoo, 4001 S.W. Canyon Road, from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20.

They’re also paying for two billboards reading “Oregon Zoo: Don’t Let Chendra Die Behind Bars” on Oregon Highway 8 and the Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway. The billboards go up on Monday, Oct. 22.

Two Oregon Zoo elephants show off for visitors on March 31, 2018. (KOIN) 

“Every day, residents and visitors unknowingly visit the Oregon Zoo for a mere few minutes of entertainment at the expense of some of the most intelligent creatures in the world’s livelihoods,” said Kohlmoos. “This has to stop. It’s time to expose the Oregon Zoo for what it really is: an elephant torture chamber.”

Protesters are also planning to testify on Oct. 25 at Metro Council, which oversees the Oregon Zoo. Activists say Chendra’s “circle walking” is an indication that she is bored and depressed, while zookeepers have said it’s simply because she’s partially blind and needs to look around.

Care2, which calls itself the largest social network for good, was previously rejected earlier this month after it attempted to place these billboards on signage owned Pacific Outdoor advertising.

The Portland Tribune is a KOIN 6 News media partner.