By Lynn Thompson, Michael J. Berens
Woodland Park Zoo will phase out its elephant exhibit, saying its two remaining Asian elephants need a larger social group. The move comes after several years of criticism over the zoo’s small, aging exhibit and the quality of the elephants’ lives in captivity.
After several years of mounting criticism over the condition of its elephants, Woodland Park Zoo officials announced Wednesday that they would relocate their two remaining Asian elephants to another accredited zoo where they could be part of a larger, social herd.
Deborah Jensen, CEO of the zoo, said Chai, 35, and Bamboo, 47, would be sent together to a zoo that has a stable elephant collection that is free of disease and has an active conservation program that will highlight the threat to elephants in the wild.
Thirty-four accredited U.S. zoos have Asian elephant herds.
“We remain committed to putting the welfare of our elephants first,” Jensen said. She predicted that many members of the public would be disappointed that elephants, which have been on display in Seattle for 93 years, will no longer be a part of the zoo.
“It is a difficult decision to move these animals who have long played an important role as ambassadors for their species in the wild,” she said.
She said the elephant-exhibit area would be used for display of other Asian animal species after review of the space and possible designs.
Mayor Ed Murray praised the decision to phase out the Seattle elephant exhibit. The zoo gets about $6 million in funding from the city annually.
“The zoo board is making the right decision to find a new home for Woodland Park’s elephants, one with more habitat and an interesting social environment. I know this was not an easy decision for the zoo’s senior leaders and the dedicated staff who care for these animals. My concern remains that we must find the best possible facility for Chai and Bamboo.”
The zoo has faced intense criticism over its elephant exhibit, built in 1989, where three elephants shared a small house and about an acre of land. That criticism intensified after the August death of the zoo’s only African elephant, Watoto, who had been on display for more than four decades.
In September, the U.S. Department of Agriculture faulted the zoo for sometimes leaving one of the two remaining elephants outdoors with no access to shelter.
But the decision to relocate Chai and Bamboo won’t appease all critics. Elephant activists who waited outside the Seattle zoo after Wednesday’s announcement called on officials to send the two remaining elephants to a wildlife sanctuary and not another zoo, where they would remain on display.
“They have earned the right to retire to a warm, sunny location where they can be on elephant time and do elephant things,” said Lisa Kane, a member of the Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants.
Another activist, Alyne Fortgang, said relocating Chai and Bamboo to another zoo would mean “more of the same. The elephants need to go to a sanctuary. They’ve been in captivity since they were taken from their mothers as babies. They deserve to be off exhibit to heal from the trauma of captivity.” More....