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


UPDATED: Woodland Park Zoo elephants on the road to Oklahoma City Zoo

April 15th, 2015 by Dale

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.

You can also see live video of the preparations.

That’s the reason for the news helicopters hovering over the neighborhood. The noise from them is causing some consternation, say commenters on the PhinneyWood Facebook page.

Update 5:30 p.m.: Plenty of camera crews and reporters are stationed at the zoo’s South Entrance, waiting for the trucks carrying Chai and Bamboo to begin their journey to Oklahoma.


Today the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied an appeal for a federal preliminary injunction by the Elephant Justice Project (which is affiliated with Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants), which has been trying to have the elephants sent to a sanctuary rather than another zoo. Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants has spent years highlighting what it says are unbearable conditions for zoo elephants. The group even hosted a press conference with actress/comedienne (and animal rights activist) Lily Tomlin in 2009.

The zoo had resisted calls to shut down its elephant exhibit for years, and in 2013 a task force had even recommended it expand its elephant program, but in November 2014 the zoo decided to close down its elephant program. In February the zoo announced it would send its remaining two elephants to Oklahoma City. The Seattle Times published a story on April 10 with details about the Oklahoma City Zoo.

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.”

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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 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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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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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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Elephant advocates to protest in front of, and above, Woodland Park Zoo today

July 15th, 2011 by Doree

Members of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants and Sound Animal Rights Alliance will demonstrate in front of Woodland Park Zoo this afternoon, to renew their calls for the zoo to send its three elephants to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

An airplane also will fly over the zoo and surrounding areas, pulling a banner that says “Zoo Elephants Suffer.”
Demonstrators will be in front of the zoo’s West Entrance on Phinney Avenue North at North 55th Street from 4-6 p.m. The banner will fly over from 5-6 p.m.

“When people see the aerial message, we hope they will contact the Seattle City Council and WPZ to ask for the release of these long-suffering elephants to the Sanctuary,” FWPZE member Sandy Clinton said in a press release.

More from the Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants press release:

According to scientists, animal experts and WPZ’s own medical records Bamboo, Watoto and Chai suffer from captivity-induced ailments including crippling arthritis and chronic foot infections. These are directly caused by lack of space and severe confinement which will likely lead to premature death.

The three elephants display severe neurotic behaviors such as swaying, pacing in circles and head bobbing; all signs of serious distress. According to behavioral experts like Dr. Gay Bradshaw, “stereotypies are a common symptom of people in prisons as well as animals in zoos. They are a coping mechanism that helps to protect the mind against unbearable stress and trauma.”

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