Woodland Park Zoo’s elephants, Chai and Bamboo, have arrived at their new home in Oklahoma City, after being diverted to San Diego last month.
KING 5 had a crew on scene when the elephants’ caravan arrived about 3 a.m. at the Oklahoma City Zoo.
The elephants left Seattle after a years-long fight with animal activists over the elephants’ well being. Activists fought for the elephants to be moved to a sanctuary instead of another zoo. The elephants left for Oklahoma City hours after a judge gave the okay, but the caravan was diverted to San Diego due to severe weather.
Update Thursday: Woodland Park Zoo posted an FAQ on its website with answers to questions about the move, including why it happened without advanced notice, and what keepers packed for the elephants on their 40-hour journey.
Update 6:25 p.m.: We just saw the flatbed truck with the elephants in climate-controlled crates leave Woodland Park Zoo, heading north on Phinney Avenue with an escort of police cars.
Earlier: The Woodland Park Zoo elephants are being prepared for their move to Oklahoma City, according to KING 5 news, which has a story being updated here.
Here’s today’s official statement from the zoo’s president and CEO, Dr. Deborah Jensen, posted on the zoo’s website.
SEATTLE – United States Courts for the Ninth Circuit today denied an emergency motion for injunctive relief. Following is a statement released by Woodland Park Zoo President and CEO Dr. Deborah Jensen:
“We are grateful to the federal Ninth Circuit for denying the emergency motion for a preliminary injunction that would have delayed the move of our two elephants to Oklahoma City Zoo.
“Today’s decision clears the way for us to proceed with moving our elephants, Bamboo and Chai, to join their new family at Oklahoma City Zoo. Focusing on the welfare of our elephants remains our top priority and it is important for us to move them now while the weather conditions are favorable.
“For the safety and security of Bamboo and Chai, we are unable to announce the exact timing of departure but will inform our zoo family and community once they have safely left the grounds of Woodland Park Zoo.
“On behalf of the Board of Directors and staff, I want to thank the community for your continued support during this complicated time. We will keep everyone updated when the elephants are on the road.”
In case you missed it, the saga of Woodland Park Zoo‘s elephants continues as the Elephant Justice Project has filed a lawsuit challenging whether the zoo actually owns Chai and Bamboo and can therefore legally make the decision to move them to the Oklahoma City Zoo instead of sending them to a sanctuary.
The zoo had planned to move the elephants in the next couple of weeks, but that is now on hold pending a hearing on the motion in King County Superior Court.
The EJP held a press conference yesterday before the city council meeting. From the EJP press release:
Knoll Lowney, an attorney for EJP, summarizes: “The lawsuit is powerful in its simplicity. The Legislature passed a law in 2000 that allowed the City to contract with the Zoo Society to operate and manage the zoo, but the City had no legal authority to give away all of the animals and equipment. Our state Constitution prohibits such gifts. The 2002 agreement giving Chai and Bamboo to the Zoo Society is illegal and unconstitutional, so the Zoo Society has no authority to decide their fate.”
Woodland Park Zoo announced on its blog today that its remaining two elephants, Bamboo and Chai, will move to the Oklahoma City Zoo sometime in late-March to mid-April.
Activists have long called for the zoo to shut down its elephant exhibit and move them to a sanctuary. Instead, the zoo decided to move them to another zoo where they will be part of a larger herd. Oklahoma currently has a family of five elephants, including a 2-month-old baby.
We are happy to announce that we have selected Oklahoma City Zoo, which best meets our criteria based on recommendations from animal welfare experts: a social herd of Asian elephants into which Chai and Bamboo may successfully integrate, a state-of-the-art facility, a healthy environment free of active infectious disease, high caliber elephant keeper and veterinary staff, a restricted contact management system, and an established history of stable finances and leadership.
You can read the full blog post, which details the decision-making process and how Chai and Bamboo will be moved 2,000 miles.
The Elephant Justice Project, affiliated with Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, has notified the zoo of its intent to sue over allegedly violating the Endangered Species Act in its care of elephants and its plan to transfer them to another zoo.
The letter serves as notice that the EJP intends to file a complaint in federal court on the first day permitted in mid-March. The letter describes the conditions that cause Chai and Bamboo physical and psychological harm forbidden by the ESA, including the tiny exhibit and Seattle’s cold, wet climate. The letter also charges that WPZ cannot qualify for the federal permit that it would need to legally ship Chai and Bamboo to another zoo.
In addition to WPZ, the EJP put five zoos and an exotic species transportation company on notice of its impending claim of ESA violations. The five zoos include the Denver and L.A. zoos, to which WPZ has threatened to relocate Seattle’s elephants. The transport company WPZ could likely use for the move has provided such substandard and dangerous care to animals being relocated that a recent transfer ended in the death of an elephant during a move from one zoo to another.
“Since Woodland Park Zoo refuses to this date to even consider retiring Bamboo and Chai to a sanctuary, the EJP was forced to pursue this litigation strategy to ensure that the elephants are not sent to another, equally deplorable zoo,” said EJP co-founder Alyne Fortgang.
The zoo announced in November that it eventually would close its elephant exhibit and sent Chai and Bamboo to another zoo. Friends of Woodland Park Zoo has pressured the zoo for years to send them to a sanctuary instead.
I contacted the zoo today about the lawsuit. Here is their official statement:
Woodland Park Zoo has received the letter from FOWPZE giving 60 days’ notice of its intent to sue over alleged violations of the Endangered Species Act. The Zoo does not comment on threatened or pending litigation.
Woodland Park Zoo just announced this afternoon that it will phase out its elephant program and send its two remaining elephants to other institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.
Here’s the zoo’s full press release:
“We remain committed to putting the welfare of our elephants first. After several months of working to implement the recommendations of the Elephant Task Force, we have found that adding to the herd of our two aging elephants is not realistic in the foreseeable future. It is in the best interest of Bamboo and Chai to live in a social, multi-animal herd in a healthy environment,” said Woodland Park Zoo’s President and CEO Dr. Deborah Jensen. “This can best be accomplished by relocating them to another accredited Association of Zoos & Aquariums facility that is held to exemplary standards of care. Having only one or two elephants at the zoo for the long term would work against the broader social welfare of Chai and Bamboo and we are committed to following the recommendations of elephant health and welfare experts.”
The Elephant Task Force–panel of local community representatives and internationally-distinguished scientists and animal care professionals–conducted a critical and thorough external review of the zoo’s elephant program in 2013.
The zoo will begin finding a new home for its two elephants, 47-year-old Bamboo and 35-year-old Chai, both female Asian elephants.
“We will ensure Bamboo and Chai will be relocated together to an Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) facility that shares our commitment to animal health and welfare and conservation through education, and provides viewing access to the animals. We have not identified a new home at this time but we expect to move them in 2015. They will be a part of our family for the rest of their lives and we will continue to follow their welfare at their new home,” added Jensen.
“It is a difficult decision to move these animals who have long played an important role as ambassadors for their species in the wild, but we could not have made it without the thoughtful and exhaustive work of the Elephant Task Force, the zoo’s Board of Directors and our staff. We will continue working with our elephant conservation partners in Borneo and Tanzania and the 96 Elephants campaign to help end the ivory trade,” said Jensen.
Approximately 139 Asian elephants currently live in AZA institutions. According to Woodland Park Zoo’s Chief Operations Officer Bruce Bohmke, North American elephant population management experts predicted a population decline based on a decade’s worth of research. Bohmke, who serves on the Steering Committee of the North American AZA Elephant Taxon Advisory Group and Species Survival Plan (TAG/SSP), said the decline is attributed to a number of factors including an aging population and limited reproduction. “In addition, because other zoos are expanding or building new exhibits, there are very few individual elephants to acquire. We recognize that the process of expanding existing herds is going to happen slowly, and that it may be a few decades before a sustainable population can be achieved,” said Bohmke.
Each year, the zoo reviews its animal programs, which include physical and behavioral health and care, and makes decisions to continue, phase out or introduce new animals based on an extensive set of criteria, explained Bohmke. In 2012, the zoo phased out its African wild dog and Malayan sun bear exhibits.
In May 2015, Malayan tigers will be introduced to a new, dynamic exhibit for tigers and sloth bears. The state-of-the-art complex will empower and inspire visitors with up-close animal encounters, hands-on learning, and links to meaningful conservation actions visitors can take to build a better future for wildlife.
Woodland Park Zoo today released the necropsy report for its female African elephant Watoto, who was euthanized in August at the age of 45 after she was found lying down in the elephant exhibit and unable to stand on her own.
Excerpts from the press release:
According to the zoo’s Director of Animal Health, Dr. Darin Collins, the most relevant finding from the pathology report was the chronic, age-related arthritis in the elephant’s leg joints, which had been described during the post-mortem examination. Additional findings in other tissues examined, such as age-related changes in heart and muscles, were mild and within expected limits and were not life-threatening. There was no evidence of an infectious disease process, in the joints or in other tissues examined. In addition, the pathologist did not find any evidence for a herpesvirus infection.
“We don’t know if Watoto fell or laid down. My clinical assessment is that she was unable to stand back up, due to the joint disease,” said Collins. Falls in elderly animals, and people, can be caused by physical conditions, such as arthritis, that impair mobility or balance. “Unfortunately, the sequence of events that occurs when an elephant is down and unable to stand becomes life-threatening in less than a few hours’ time. When lying down, large-bodied animals cannot breathe normally due to massive weight impacting their lung cavity, decreasing blood flow to vital organs and nerves, and resulting in limb paralysis.”
During multiple attempts to get Watoto to her feet, several hourly blood draws that were taken to monitor her health status showed her overall condition was in swift decline, added Collins.
“We are not surprised by the pathologist’s findings, which are consistent with those of a geriatric animal. Watoto did not show any new health concerns and her behavior and appetite were normal in the days leading up to her death,” explained Collins.
On the morning of August 22, zookeepers reported that Watoto was lying on her side in the yard of the elephant exhibit, unable to move to an upright position, an unusual behavior for her. Through many attempts, the keepers and animal health staff were able to successfully right Watoto to her feet with the careful use of crane-like machinery. “Unfortunately, despite these attempts, Watoto was unable to stand on her own,” said Martin Ramirez, the zoo’s curator of mammals. “Watoto simply didn’t have any more to give. We were faced with making the difficult decision to humanely euthanize her, and we made it with compassion and deep sadness.”
Watoto was born in Kenya between 1969 and 1970, and joined Woodland Park Zoo’s elephant herd in 1971 as an orphan from the wild.
Woodland Park Zoo has two remaining female elephants: 47-year-old Bamboo and 35-year-old Chai.
The plan calls for the zoo to spend up to $3 million to send its African elephant, Watoto, to another zoo, and replace her with a new Asian elephant, and improve the indoor and outdoor elephant habitats.
The Elephant Task Force released its final report last October. The zoo’s Board of Directors and staff reviewed it and came up with the final plan.
The task force that’s been evaluating Woodland Park Zoo‘s elephant program will present its final report at 6 p.m. tonight (Tuesday) at the Central Library downtown, 1000 4th Ave, 4th Floor, Meeting Room 1, Seattle.
The WPZ board appointed the Task Force to evaluate the zoo’s elephant program and exhibit, the health and care of its three elephants, and the value of the exhibit and program to the zoo’s education and conservation objectives.
At the meeting, Task Force co-chairs Jan Hendrickson, co-founder of Denny Hill Capital, and Jay Manning, an environmental attorney and former chief of staff to Gov. Christine Gregoire, will publicly present the Task Force’s key findings, recommendations and management options for the WPZ Board to consider for the elephant program and exhibit.
More information can be found at www.elephanttaskforce.org. Written questions from the public in attendance will be addressed by the Task Force.