TORONTO -- An Ontario zoo is being called the worst place for elephants in North America due to practices that are allegedly killing and harming the animals, a new report by an international animal rights organization has found.

In Defense of Animals recently released its list of the 10 most harmful zoos for elephants in 2020, and number one on that list is Hamilton’s African Lion Safari.

The organization said the popular zoo breeds elephants for sale, causes transfer abuse trauma through repeated shipments, uses bullhooks to dominate the elephants and forces them to “perform unnatural circus tricks.”

Will Anderson, the campaign coordinator with In Defense of Animals, said that many of the younger elephants are being separated from their mothers and enduring severe stress and lifelong trauma.

“Elephant health depends on strong relationships with other elephants, but zoos are knowingly tearing apart those bonds by engaging in trafficking and transfer abuse,” Anderson said in a statement.

“Transfer abuse is just one of the traumas inflicted on captive elephants in North America, as these intelligent and socially complex animals are denied control over their lives.”

The African Lion Safari boasts of being home to the largest Asian elephant herd in “any zoological facility in North America” with 16 members.

CTV News Toronto reached out to the African Lion Safari for a statement on Thursday morning, but has not yet received a response.

The zoo says on its website that it’s participating in a number of “important research programmes on the Asian elephant focusing on reproduction and endocrinology."

“It is hoped that through this research we can better understand the biology and physiology of the Asian elephant,” it said.

“African Lion Safari’s goal is to continue its successful breeding programme for the endangered Asian elephant to conserve these magnificent animals for future generations.”

In Defense of Animals said in a statement that the African Lion Safari breeds and then sells captive elephants to zoos across North America and has a pending sale of two elephants for $1 million dollars each. 

The animal rights group is asking people not to visit the African Lion Safari and the other zoos named on their list, which include the Fort Worth Zoo in Texas, the Pittsburgh Zoo in Pennsylvania and Seneca Park Zoo in New York.

The organization said the elephants in some of these zoos, including the African Lion Safari, are also being kept in barns over long, dark and cold winters. 

“It is the epitome of an elephant exploitation business. This safari theme park intends to sell two mother elephants to Fort Worth Zoo thereby separating them from their two young calves,” the organization said.

“The ‘safari’ is an international hub selling adult elephants to other zoos, which receives and sends back elephants from distant zoos for years at a time at the expense of their families.”

They are now calling on the zoos to phase out their elephant exhibits and send the captive animals to accredited sanctuaries to receive the care and support they need.

“African Lion Safari is a cruel, dangerous, and profit-driven business supported by zoos,” the organization said. “Their last trip must be to an accredited sanctuary for life.”

Elephants are one of the largest of all land animals and can weigh up to 4,500 kilograms. They have the second longest life span of any living mammal and are one of the world’s smartest.

The animal rights organization said that all the stresses the elephants endure at the African Lion Safari might have led to the 2019 incident when one elephant attacked and seriously injured a handler. 

A recent bill tabled by Senator Murray Sinclair last December called the Jane Goodall Act is trying to ban new captivity of great apes and elephants in Canada unless it is for the animals’ best interests.