The Worst Zoo for Elephants

Elephants on Kasenyl Plains by Tobias Seiderer

In Defense of Animals has chosen the Oklahoma City Zoo as the worst zoo for elephants. Though there is no good zoo for any animal and certainly not elephants.

Yet this is where the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle decided to send its remaining elephants, Bamboo and Chai, when public pressure forced the zoo to close its elephant exhibition. This despite that the mayor, city council and citizens urged the zoo to place these elephants in an accredited sanctuary.

Chai died only eight months after arriving at OKC Zoo. According to Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, “She wasted away, rapidly losing 1,000 pounds, and suffered from an infection in her bloodstream likely caused by 25 puss-filled abscesses—all of which went untreated.

“Now Bamboo, languishes at OKC Zoo, an aggressor and victim. The other elephants at the zoo have repeatedly attacked Bamboo, injuring various parts of her body including her trunk and one of the bites amputated the end of her tail.” Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of Friends, adds, “Trapped within a cramped hot-wired yard there is no ability to flee from an attack causing an unhealthy and dangerous situation….

“It is not too late for OKC Zoo to do the right thing by allowing [Bamboo] to heal and live in peace at an accredited elephant sanctuary.”

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.