Call on City of Seattle to Send Elephants to a Sanctuary

Photo by Artg
Photo by Artg
Update: The Woodland Park Zoo euthanized Watoto on August 22, 2014, saying she was not able to get up and was in increasing discomfort. Watoto was only 45 years old. Captivity took its toll. Her life span in the wild would likely have been 70 years. Not to mention in the wild she would have been free to have a family, establish the close bonds so critical to an elephant’s well being. She would have been free to roam as elephants do for miles each day. Instead, she was confined to an indoor stall 16-17 hours a day during inclement weather, a given in Seattle for much of the year and to a small paddock on dry days. All 3 of the zoo’s elephants have less than an acre and that includes the indoor facility.

It is more critical than ever to move the remaining two elephants, Chai and Bamboo, to a sanctuary where they can roam for acres and form rewarding relationships with other elephants. Call Mayor Ed Murray at 206-684-4000 or write him or comment on his Facebook page. For more information including how to contact City Council members about moving the elephants to a sanctuary, read Animal Law Coalition’s original report below. Don’t wait. Act now.

Original report: According to a recent survey, nearly two thirds of Seattle residents support retiring the elephants, Chai, Bamboo and Watoto, to a sanctuary. Less than 10% support keeping the elephants at the zoo. Two thirds of city residents want the zoo to stop breeding Chai.

27 zoos have closed or plan to close their elephant exhibits. The Journal, Scientific American, recently called for an end to all elephant exhibits. “[I]f the zoos really have the animals’ best interests at heart, they would close their elephant exhibits.” Scientific American (Feb. 2014). “Confined elephants often spend their time standing around in cramped quarters….These tortuous conditions inflict serious physical and psychological damage on such smart and sensitive animals.” Scientific American Board of Editors (March, 2014).

At Woodland Park Zoo, because of the weather, the elephants are confined over half the year for 16-17 hours each day in small indoor stalls. When outside, they are confined to small paddocks. The entire elephant exhibit including the barn with the indoor stalls, occupies only about an acre. The elephants display neurotic behaviors that are signs of distress and boredom. A former zoo veterinarian has confirmed the elephants suffer from chronic, painful skin conditions as a result of the climate and foot infections and arthritis from standing on hard surfaces.

These intelligent, sensitive animals are provided with no exercise, let alone the ability to roam and forage for miles each day as they do in the wild. A zoo environment deprives them of strong family and social bonds of the matriarchal herds in which they live normally. A zoo is nothing more than a cruel prison for these animals. Go here for more information.

Recently, the zoo announced a five year plan that includes transferring Watoto to another zoo and bringing in one or two other elephants for breeding. Chai has already suffered thru 112 artificial inseminations and had numerous miscarriages; there have been no live births. Breeding elephants in captivity is problematic and with the zoo’s lack of infection control and suitable habitat, irresponsible and cruel. The zoo claims it will spend $1.5-3 million over 5 years to improve the exhibit in some undefined way including adding new elephants for breeding; these funds will also be used in some undefined way for elephant conservation. Contrast this with the $42 million spent by San Diego and Los Angeles each only to upgrade their elephant exhibits.

The zoo plans to move Watoto to another zoo by the end of this year.

In 2010 taxpayers brought a lawsuit against the City for subsidizing the zoo’s elephant exhibit which violates federal, state and local animal cruelty laws. The case was dismissed for lack of standing. Since then, residents have called on the City of Seattle to intervene and close the elephant exhibit. Residents attended a city council meeting on July 14, 2014 to urge council members to tell the zoo to send Watoto to a sanctuary rather than another zoo. But the council refused to allow residents to speak.

The City’s Authority to Transfer the Elephants to Sanctuary

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has said that he “personally believes that elephants should not be kept in captivity. The scientific evidence strongly supports that extensive open space and opportunities for rich social interaction are necessary for elephants to flourish. Unfortunately, the Woodland Park Zoo’s current elephant exhibit does not sufficiently provide for these needs“.

But the mayor and the city council have taken the position that they have “no authority over the Zoo’s operations or its policies regarding its elephant exhibit.” The mayor explains, “In 2002, the City of Seattle transferred management and financial responsibility of the Zoo to the Woodland Park Zoological Society.”

It is true that pursuant to Ordinance 120697, the the zoo is managed by the Society under an operations and management contract with the City. But the contract contains these provisions:

15.2 Care of Animals. WPZS shall care for all Zoo Animals in accordance
with all federal, state and local laws and regulations, and in accordance with the Long-Range Plan and policies and guidelines adopted by the AZA.
15.3 Sale and Purchase of Animals. WPZS shall have the authority to acquire or sell or otherwise dispose of Zoo Animals in the course of WPZS’s operation of the Zoo. The acquisition, sale or other disposition of Zoo Animals shall be made in strict accordance with (a) all applicable federal, state or local laws, regulations and policies, (b) the guidelines and policies of the AZA, and (c) existing and any adopted acquisition and disposition policies approved by the City.

In effect, the zoo must comply with city ordinances passed to protect zoo animals. The city has the authority specifically to adopt ordinances regarding the acquisition and disposition of animals by the zoo. The city can, then, pass legislation directing transfer of Watoto, for example, to a sanctuary.

Also, taxpayers provide about a third of the funding for the zoo. In 2012 the zoo received $10.3 million from the city and county. Taxpayers should not pay for an antiquated elephant exhibit that inflicts cruel suffering on Chai, Bamboo, and Watoto every single day.


If you live in Seattle, contact Mayor Ed Murray and the city council at the addresses below and urge them to use the city’s authority under its contract with the Woodland Park Zoological Society to direct that Watoto be sent to a sanctuary now instead of a zoo and also close the elephant exhibit entirely as so many other zoos have done.;;;;;;;;;

Also, please volunteer/donate to support the efforts of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants.
Support Community Coalition for Elephant Retirement!
These organizations are leading the fight to save Watoto, Chai and Bamboo from the terrible conditions they suffer at Woodland Park Zoo.

Judge Rules Against the Elephants

Photo by Andy Withers
Photo by Andy Withers
Update: Judge Rietschel ruled against the elephants in finding that the Woodland Park Zoo is not obligated to comply with the state’s Public Records Act and make information such as veterinary records for the elephants available to the public. The Plaintiff may appeal.

Original report: On behalf of the elephants held at Woodland Park Zoo, please attend a hearing this Friday, July 25, 2014 at 1:30 p.m. in Judge Jean Rietschel’s courtroom at the King County Courthouse, 516 Third Avenue, Seattle, WA 98104.

At issue is whether Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants is entitled to obtain information from the zoo including about the welfare of the elephants. In response to numerous public disclosure requests, the Zoo has stated it does not have specific records or supplied grossly inaccurate information. The Zoo has also claimed it is not subject to Washington State’s Public Records Act. This despite one third of the zoo’s funding comes from the City of Seattle and King County and it operates under a contract with the city of Seattle on city property.

In order to require the zoo to comply with the state’s Public Records Act, Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants filed a lawsuit on March 12, 2014: Fortgang v. Woodland Park Zoo. The motion for summary judgment will be heard this Friday, July 25th at 1:30pm.

We need you there to show the judge WE ARE WATCHING

What: Motion for Summary Judgment, Fortgang v. Woodland Park Zoo
When: Friday, July 25th, 2014 at 1:30pm
Where: King County Superior Court. 516 Third Avenue, Seattle, WA 98104
Honorable Judge Jean Rietschel’s courtroom.

What is the zoo hiding?

The Zoo has taken over $108 million dollars from tax payers since 2002. The Zoo has use of city parkland and city buildings RENT FREE. The Zoo acquired their “product”, the animals from the city, for FREE. Yet the Zoo has refused to answer the most basic details about the welfare of Bamboo, Chai and Watoto, the three elephants confined in the Zoo. When it did respond, some information was not accurate—such as how many times Chai was artificially inseminated or where the water sources are located in the yard.

More recently, the Zoo has refused to provide records on the imminent transfer of Watoto to another Zoo. Despite acknowledging that the Zoo is communicating with other zoos, it says it has no records.

It’s time for secrecy to end. As taxpayers we deserve to know what’s going on inside the walls of Woodland Park Zoo. Please come and show your support against the Zoo’s arrogance.

We will all wear an orange tag that says in big letters: TRANSPARENCY

Seattle City Council Refuses to Hear Appeal for Watoto

Elephants.waiting to see mayorUpdate July 15, 2015: Members of the public that support retiring the Woodland Park Zoo elephants to a sanctuary filled Seattle’s City Council hearing room yesterday.

The supporters of the elephants were there to voice concern, in particular, for Watoto, the elephant the zoo intends to move to another zoo by the end of the year. A zoo official on hand was adamant that Watoto would not be allowed to go to a sanctuary and instead would be sent to another zoo. The city council refused to allow anyone to speak on behalf of the elephants even during the public comment period, claiming that the matter was “not on the agenda”.

Supporters of the elephants then went to the mayor’s office, but he was not available.

Please help by contacting city council members at the addresses below and urge them to support retiring all elephants to a sanctuary and closing the elephant exhibit at the zoo. Please be polite. You can find more information at

Original report: You may have heard about the growing debate involving the three elephants held at the Woodland Park Zoo. For decades, Watoto, Chai, and Bamboo have languished in a cramped, barren, antiquated exhibit that harms their physical and psychological health.

Facing increased criticism over its elephant program, the Zoo recently announced a plan to send Watoto (the Zoo’s sole African elephant) to another zoo and bring in two additional elephants; one of breeding age.

Time is of the essence. The Woodland Park Zoo intends to rid itself of Watoto by the end of the year.

Elephants on Kasenyl Plains by Tobias Seiderer
Elephants on Kasenyl Plains
From the Community Coalition for Elephant Retirement and Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants: we won’t give up on Chai and Bamboo, Watoto needs your support now to ensure that her future is secure at a sanctuary, not another zoo where she will be forced to endure more of the same. The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), an elephant sanctuary in California, is available to talk if and when the zoo considers retiring the elephants. To date, the Zoo has not responded.

TWO things you can do to help Watoto:

1) Write to the Seattle City Council and Mayor Ed Murray today (email addresses below). Please keep your comments brief and polite, mention whether you are a Seattle and/or King County resident , and include the following suggested points:
• Urge the Council and Mayor to champion community values and retire Watoto to a sanctuary.
• Let the Council and Mayor know that as a concerned Seattle or King County resident, you care about Watoto’s future. The Zoo receives millions in taxpayer money every year, making the welfare of Watoto all of our responsibility, not just the Zoo’s.
• Let the Council and Mayor know that you agree with the super majority of Seattle residents who support retiring Watoto to a sanctuary.
• Twenty-seven zoos have closed or will close their elephant exhibits; it is time that the Woodland Park Zoo follows this progressive lead. After 45 years of service at the Zoo, Watoto deserves a secure future at a sanctuary, not more of the same at another zoo.


2) Attend an upcoming City Council meeting on July 14th to show your support for Watoto. Children are strongly encouraged to attend. Free T-shirts will be provided at the 4th and Cherry entrance to City Hall starting at 1:30 pm. We will head up to the City Hall chambers on the second floor at 1:45 pm.
What: Seattle City Council meeting
When: Monday, July 14th, 1:30 pm
Where: 600 4th Ave, Second Floor, Seattle, WA, 98104

Please contact Alyne Fortgang of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants if you have questions: Please also confirm with Alyne that you plan to attend the City Council meeting.
For more information on Watoto, Chai, and Bamboo, please visit:
Thank you for your help and support!

Photo by Tobias Seiderer

Yakima, WA to Consider Repeal of Pit Bull Ban

Spencer_new-2The City Council for Yakima, Washington has agreed to reconsider the city’s year old pit bull ban. Yakima is one of the largest cities in Eastern Washington; it is in the heart of the state’s wine country. But what tourists and even its own citizens may not realize is that hundreds of thousands of tourist and tax dollars over 26 years have been spent trying to keep pit bull dogs out of the city.

The ordinance banning pit bulls actually targets any dog “which contains as an element of its breeding the breed of American pit bull terrier, Staffordshire bull terrier, American bulldog or American Staffordshire terrier so as to be identifiable as partially of [one of those]…breed[s]”. Yakima Code 6.18.010. That means a dog is banned if an animal control officer thinks he has some features of a pit bull. The ordinance allows an owner a one time 48 hour period to remove the dog from Yakima if animal control issues a notice that the dog is a pit bull kept in the city in violation of the law. Yakima Code ch. 68.

But people cannot look at a dog and determine his or her breed. Recently, in Denver Dr. Victoria Voith did a little test on animal shelter directors, dog trainers and others who work with dogs.

They were asked to view 20 dogs on a videotape and identify each one by breed including whether the dog was a purebred or a mix. The professionals were surprised by how few dogs they identified correctly by breed. Voith believes as many as 75% of the pit bull identifications made by shelter workers, animal control or law enforcement are wrong. She is the author of Shelter Medicine: A Comparison of Visual and DNA Identifications of BREEDS of Dogs. As DNA testing becomes more reliable, it is proving that many of the dogs identified as pit bull are actually a mix of dozens of breeds with little or none of the DNA of pit bull type dogs.

That means a lot of dogs condemned by breed bans are not even “pit bull” breeds.

A number of states actually prohibit breed discrimination.

There is not one major animal or health organization including the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Centers for Disease Control, among many others, that supports breed discrimination.

Breed discriminatory legislation does not work to make communities safe. Study after study has proven this. Dogs don’t bite because of breed or appearance; they bite out of fear that could have been the result of poor socialization, neglect, abuse, tethering or confinement or isolation. In other words, it is the owner or caretaker’s negligent or criminal actions that are responsible, not the dog’s breed or appearance.

Breed discrimination penalizes responsible dog owners and means the death of dogs that are not in any way dangerous. The Department of Justice has rejected breed discrimination in determining whether a dog is a service animal, noting “the breed of a dog does not determine its propensity for aggression and that aggressive and non-aggressive dogs exist in all breeds.”

Studies have shown that breed discrimination in effect for decades in other places such as Denver and Miami-Dade County have not worked to keep communities safe. Pit bull bans have only meant the deaths of thousands of innocent pets. In Prince George’s County, Maryland, the cost to enforce a pit bull ban from 2001 to 2002 was at least $560,000. Of the 900 pit bulls euthanized during that time, animal control reported that 720 were nice family pets.

Breed discrimination is a very costly negative for a community and state and will create a climate where dogs are viewed as enemies rather than family members requiring proper care, management and love. In Yakima the 4 animal control officers have been required to respond to 128 reports of pit bulls just in 2013 thus far. 37 of the dogs were impounded just because an animal control officer thought they looked to some extent like a pit bull. It makes no sense for a city to spend taxpayer dollars investigating whether a dog may look like a pit bull and then impounding him if he does.

Just last year in 2012 Ohio repealed a long standing law discriminating against pit bull dogs. The state instead adopted laws recognizing that it is the criminal or negligent acts of the owner/caretaker that are responsible for a dog’s behavior. The state recognized that the breed or appearance of a dog is not a predictor of aggression.

It is time for Yakima to do the same. If you live in Yakima or can provide information to help persuade the city council and mayor to support a repeal of the pit bull ban, contact city council members and the mayor. Just click on their names at the link for email addresses or call (509) 575-6050.