SEATTLE, WA: Over 50 people attended the Seattle City Council meeting Monday, July 14th, to support Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, a group dedicated to retiring the zoo’s elephants to a sanctuary.
Wearing bright orange T-shirts they were highly visible inside the council chambers. They had hoped to voice their concerns about the Woodland Park Zoo’s plans to transfer Watoto, a female African 45-year-old elephant, to another zoo by the end of the year. The group instead wants Watoto to be transferred to an elephant sanctuary.
Seattle City Council President Tim Burgess explained at the outset that the elephant issue was not on the day’s agenda, and public comment from the group could not be heard. He did say however that council members would review the group’s materials. He further acknowledged Watoto’s planned transfer was a city public policy issue that could possibly be heard in the future.
After the 20 minute public comment period in which taxi drivers and ride-service companies voiced opinions on new city regulations, the Friends of Woodland Park Zoo supporters got up and shouted “Sanctuary Now!”, and left.
The animal welfare advocates were responding to an announcement from the Woodland Park Zoo in March that it is planning to transfer Watoto to another zoo and expand their current herd of female Asian elephants – 47–year-old Bamboo and 35-year-old Chai – by adding at least one more female.
“This reflects badly on Seattle,” says Jennifer Douglas of Seattle, Washington. “We are a progressive city. 27 zoos have closed their elephant exhibits. It’s not making any sense. What the council needs to know is that the majority of people who live in Seattle want the elephants released to sanctuaries.”
The cost of expanding the zoo’s elephant program is between $1.5 million and $3 million over the next five years and includes improvements to the exhibit and conservation efforts.
Currently the zoo is in process of training new elephant keepers. Additionally, the barn will be closed a few weeks for annual maintenance according to Woodland Park Zoo spokeswoman Gigi Allianic.
The Woodland Park Zoo’s elephant program came under scrutiny last year after a Seattle Times’ investigation “Glamour Beasts” exposed failing elephant programs in the zoo industry around the country.
An Elephant Task Force was set up by the zoo to review its elephant program. It recommended transferring Watoto, who is currently isolated from the others, to another zoo.
Update: The Woodland Park Zoo pointed out that Watoto is not necessarily “isolated” but at times is separated because she doesn’t get along with Bamboo. Zoo spokeswoman Gigi Allianic explains “… we have been managing the elephants in two separate groupings by dividing Chai’s time between sharing space with the two other elephants. Even when they are separated, they may still reach out with their trunks and interact tactilely as well as hear and smell one another. The task force recommended moving Watoto because we could not safely integrate the herd and we have re-directed our focus to Asian elephants.”