A news blog for Seattle's Phinney Ridge and Greenwood neighborhoods


Woodland Park Zoo elephants moving to Oklahoma City Zoo this spring

February 27th, 2015 by Doree

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.

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Group plans to file suit against Woodland Park Zoo over elephant care

February 3rd, 2015 by Doree

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.

You can download a PDF of the Intent to Sue letter here.

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.

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Woodland Park Zoo will move its remaining two elephants to another AZA-accredited institution

November 19th, 2014 by Doree

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.

Visit http://zoo.org/elephantnews for information about Woodland Park Zoo’s elephants. Visit http://zoo.org/96elephants for more information about the 96 Elephants campaign.

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Necropsy report shows elephant Watoto had chronic, age-related arthritis

October 7th, 2014 by Doree

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.

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Woodland Park Zoo plans to improve elephant exhibit, replace Watoto with a new Asian elephant

March 31st, 2014 by Doree

On Friday, Woodland Park Zoo quietly released its final plan to improve its elephant exhibit. (The zoo did not send out a press release, but posted it on its blog.)

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 group Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants slammed that plan on its website.

The Seattle Times had an in-depth story on the plan on Saturday.

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Task force to release final report on Woodland Park Zoo’s elephants tonight

October 22nd, 2013 by Doree

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.

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Protesters plan to demonstrate before 5th Elephant Task Force meeting today

August 28th, 2013 by Doree

Woodland Park Zoo’s Elephant Task Force meets again today to discuss the health and well-being of the zoo’s three elephants: Bamboo, Chai and Watoto. The task force meeting is from 4-8 p.m. downtown at the US Bank Center, 1420 5th Ave., 4th Floor Conference Room.

Task force meetings are open to the public. You can see past meeting summaries and video on the task force website.

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants plans to demonstrate before that meeting, beginning at 3 p.m., claiming task force members are too close to the zoo and not objective.

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Woodland Park Zoo Society appoints task force to evaluate elephant program and exhibit

April 16th, 2013 by Doree

The board of Woodland Park Zoo has appointed a panel of community leaders to evaluate all aspects of the zoo’s elephant program and exhibit, from the elephants’ health and care, to the value of having elephants at the zoo, as well as the zoo’s education and conservation objectives.


Chai, WPZ’s 34-year-old female Asian elephant. Photo by Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo.

The task force will meet for the first time from 4-7 p.m. this Thursday at the Central Library downtown, 1000 4th Ave., in the Washington Mutual Foundation Room (Level 4, Meeting Room 1). The meeting is open to the public. Written comments from the public will be accepted and made part of the record, but this is not a public hearing. Task force meetings also will be videotaped and posted on the task force website.

The task force is co-chaired by Jan Hendrickson, co-founder of Denny Hill Capital and a former WPZ board chair; and Jay Manning, an environmental attorney and former chief of staff to Gov. Christine Gregoire.

Other task force members include:

  • Marianne Bichsel, founder and president of Bichsel Public Affairs and former senior advisor to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels;
  • Grant Degginger, chair of the Construction and Environmental Practice Group at Lane Powell PC in Seattle and former Bellevue mayor and city council member;
  • Gene Duvernoy, president of Forterra, a regional organization dedicated to land conservation;
  • Ellen Ferguson, director of community relations at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture;
  • Annette Laico, executive director of the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS);
  • Jeff Leppo, a law partner in the Seattle office of Stoel Rives LLP, specializing in environmental, wildlife and natural resources law;
  • Rob Liddell, M.D., medical director for Center for Diagnostic Imaging Seattle, and founding member of Woodland Park Zoo’s Conservation Committee;
  • Jeannie Nordstrom, community volunteer and YWCA board member; Bryce Seidl, president and CEO of the Pacific Science Center;
  • Andrew Shouse, Ph.D., associate director of the University of Washington Institute for Science and Math Education;
  • Lyn Tangen, former senior director, Corporate Communications, for Vulcan Inc., and legal advisor to Mayor Paul Schell;
  • Suzanne Walsh, senior program officer in education at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation;
  • Bryan Slinker, D.V.M. Ph.D., dean of the college of veterinary medicine at Washington State University.

Bichsel, Leppo, Liddell and Slinker are current members of the zoo’s board of directors. The task force is expected to name a separate panel of experts to focus on the health and care of the zoo’s elephants.

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Rally today in support of sending Woodland Park Zoo elephants to a sanctuary

December 15th, 2012 by Doree

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants will hold a rally today in support of releasing the zoo’s elephants to a sanctuary.

The rally will take place at the zoo’s south entrance, at North 50th Street and Fremont Avenue North, from 12-2 p.m.

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