By Sandi Doughton
Woodland Park Zoo on Friday fired back at activists seeking to block the transfer of two elephants to the Oklahoma City Zoo.
Woodland Park Zoo fired back Friday at activists seeking to block the transfer of two elephants to the Oklahoma City Zoo.
In legal documents filed in King County Superior Court, the zoo and its lawyers dismissed claims by the Elephant Justice Project that Woodland Park doesn’t own the animals.
The activist group argued the city had no authority to transfer ownership of all zoo animals to the Woodland Park Zoo Society (WPZS) in 2002. It also claimed the transfer was hidden from the public.
But the city charter gives local leaders the authority to dispose of or sell public property, the zoo’s filing says. The documents also include a blog post written by City Council Member Nick Licata at the time, spelling out details of the transfer. “These provisions were not a secret,” the filing says.
Since 2002, the zoo acquired or transferred animals 53,760 times, and consulting with the city over every move would be impractical, the documents say.
“If WPZS was not able to make these complex decisions without first consulting with the City, the entire scheme of nonprofit management and operations of the Zoo would be undone.”
Seattle and King County contribute about a third of the zoo’s budget, but the zoo is operated and managed by the zoo society under a 20-year contract. Though Mayor Ed Murray and several City Council members favored sending 36-year-old Chai and 48-year-old Bamboo to a sanctuary, they deferred to the zoo’s choice of Oklahoma City.
The zoo also defended its transportation plans for the multi-ton animals, saying they will travel on a flatbed truck in individual, climate-controlled crates with wireless cameras and an entourage of veterinarians and other staff.
In response to a request from The Seattle Times, the zoo released the contract with the hauler, Stephen Fritz Enterprises, Inc. The proposed date of the move was blacked out because “the Zoo is concerned that any activity such as a protest to try to block the transportation of Bamboo and Chai may be harmful to their health and therefore should not be made public,” attorney Paul Lawrence said in an email.
The price tag for the move is $111,000. If the zoo opts to ship the elephants separately, the contract says they must pay an additional $74,000. The zoo will be charged $200 a day for delays caused by litigation or other problems.
A hearing is set for April 3 on the Elephant Justice Project’s request for an injunction to stop the move. The zoo has agreed not to move the animals before April 8.
Opponents of the move also filed a second lawsuit this week, alleging the move violates the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Asian elephants are protected under the federal law, which extends to captive animals.
The suit filed in U.S. District Court argues Woodland Park needs a federal permit to transport Chai and Bamboo, and that conditions in both zoos fail to meet standards of care mandated under the ESA.
A zoo spokeswoman said no federal permit is required because the move is not considered a commercial transaction. Woodland Park will retain ownership of the elephants, and no money is changing hands.