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Elephant’s Death Sparks Letter to Seattle Mayor

IMAGE: file: Watoto, a female elephant on display at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Wash. in 2011. Her pathology report said she had joint disease. (© Karen Ducey Photography)
October 10, 2014


This morning the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) issued a statement calling on Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle City Council to release the Woodland Park Zoo‘s two remaining elephants to a sanctuary following the untimely death of Watato, a 45 year old female African elephant, last August.

“This elephant’s death was preventable and exemplifies Woodland Park Zoo’s inability to care for elephants properly and its negligence in the face of studies into the causes of captive elephant mortality,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders.

Two female Asian elephants remain at the zoo, Chai, 35 and Bamboo, 47.

On on the morning August 22, 2014 zookeepers found Watoto lying in an unusual position on her side. Using a crane-like machine they were able to prop her up but she could not stand on her own. She was later euthanized.

IMAGE: Watoto constantly scratches her legs while seen on display at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Wash. in 2011. (© Karen Ducey Photography)

Watoto constantly scratches her legs while seen on display at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Wash. in 2011. (© Karen Ducey Photography)



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 process, in the joints or in other tissues examined. In addition, the pathologist did not find any evidence for a herpes virus infection.

“We don’t know if Watoto fell or lay down.” said Collins.  “My clinical assessment is that she was unable to stand back up, due to the joint disease. Falls in elderly animal, 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 hour’ 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.”

According to an article in the National Geographic wild elephants live many years longer than those born in a zoo; a median average of 56 years compared to 17 in a zoo.

The letter sent by PETA to Seattle Mayor ed Murray and the City Council is as follows:

October 10, 2014

The Honorable Ed Murray
Mayor of Seattle

Dear Mayor Murray:

I am writing to follow up on our September 15 correspondence and—in the wake of Watoto’s necropsy results—to urge you again to prioritize the welfare of the two remaining elephants at the Woodland Park Zoo and use your unique position of influence in order to send them to an accredited sanctuary.

Watoto’s death was preventable and exemplifies Woodland Park Zoo’s blatant neglect and inability to care for elephants properly, making the zoo a wildly inappropriate place for Chai and Bamboo. As we now know, Watoto was suffering from debilitating arthritis—the direct result of zoo confinement. When her chronic lameness and painful arthritic condition proved too much, she collapsed or lay down to alleviate the discomfort, only to be unable to stand up again. Security records from the night prior to her death and the morning of it indicate that the failure of overnight patrol officers to check the elephant exhibit resulted in Watoto’s lying down and being helpless for up to eight hours before zookeepers found her on the morning of her death. Major organs sustained irreversible damage under her massive weight.

Watoto’s story is not an uncommon one for elephants who have been sentenced to a life of captivity. Chai and Bamboo continue to be denied everything that is natural and important to them and are imprisoned by and at the mercy of Woodland Park Zoo, which already failed Watoto. People across the country are concerned about the welfare of Chai and Bamboo, and their watchful and waiting eyes are on Seattle City Council.

Please take immediate action in recognition of Watoto’s preventable death and of the fact that elephants do not belong in a zoo. The Performing Animal Welfare Society in California is an ideal option for Chai and Bamboo, where they would get the care, respite, and space that they deserve. Their well-being continues to be something that PETA and other organizations are very concerned about. Nearly two months have passed since Watoto’s death. Now is the time for a speedy decision to avoid another preventable death. Thank you for your careful consideration of this important issue.

Sincerely yours,

Brittany Peet
Counsel, PETA Foundation


Prior to Watoto’s death an Elephant Task Force was set up by the zoo that recommended transferring the female African elephant, who was currently isolated from the others, to another zoo, despite animal advocates calls to have her released to a sanctuary.

More on the Woodland Park Zoo elephants can be found in the Seattle Times in the story Glamour Beasts


IMAGE: file: Watoto, a female African elephant on display at the Woodland Park Zoo in 2011.

file: Watoto, a female African elephant on display at the Woodland Park Zoo in 2011.




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