Elephant advocates joined hundreds of others packing Seattle City Council chambers at a public hearing Thursday, Oct. 23, to voice their opinions on Mayor Ed Murray’s 2015 and 2016 budget proposals.
Wearing vivid orange T-shirts, they used their two-minute allotted time slots to express their concerns over the Woodland Park Zoo’s care of its elephants and urge the council to withhold funding to the zoo until it releases Chai and Bamboo, its two remaining elephants, to sanctuaries.
“The city plans to fund the Woodland Park Zoo with nearly $7 million tax dollars in 2015 and even more in 2016, essentially rewarding the zoo for housing elephants in harmful conditions that have already claimed the life of two elephants,” said Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of the advocacy group Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants. Hansa, 6, died in 2006, and Watoto, 45, died suddenly in August.
Using the notes on her cellphone, elephant advocate Carol Guilbault recounted excerpts of her speech:
“I moved here from Massachusetts 11 years ago. I went to the Woodland Park Zoo and immediately knew this was not a place any elephant should have to live. Having no experience with elephants I knew their behavior was not that of happy elephants. Clear signs of boredom and neurosis. The elephants are going insane. This is simply not fair.
“We are supposed to be a progressive city. The Woodland Park Zoo made the 10 worst zoo list and we just let Watoto die which was totally preventable. Are we really going to wait for Chai or Bamboo to die? Are you going to let this happen on your watch? You have a chance to step up and stop making excuses about not having any power and do the right thing. Please respect the majority and withhold the funding until Chai and Bamboo are retired to a sanctuary.
“I’ve been writing to the City Council now for over seven years on the conditions of the elephants and their unnatural behavior. I have also gone to the City Council three times now, and I went three weeks before Watoto died, like I did tonight, saying, ‘Free Watoto.’ The City Council completely ignored 100 of us.”
The Woodland Park Zoo says on its website that its mission is to “save animals and their habitats through conservation leadership and engaging experiences, inspiring people to learn, care and act.” The zoo says it won’t send any animals to a sanctuary because sanctuaries are not accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
According to a report in The Seattle Times, “Glamour Beasts,” a zoo will lose its accreditation with the AZA if an elephant is sent anywhere that doesn’t have a breeding program. Losing that accreditation would then block a zoo from exchanging animals with other zoos.
A pathology report released by the zoo said that Watoto died from “chronic, age-related arthritis in the elephant’s leg joints” and referred to her as “an aging animal that is deteriorating” and a “geriatric animal. In the wild however, female African elephants live to a median age of 56 according to a National Geographic article.
A recent editorial in Crosscut goes into more detail about Watoto’s death. Writer Eric Scigliano reports, “I received the pathology report and the zoo’s security log for that night but was denied the security logs from the preceding week, on grounds those logs don’t constitute ‘animal records,’ which the zoo is obliged to disclose under its terms with the city.”
Last summer King County Superior Court, Judge Jean A. Rietschel ruled that the Woodland Park Zoo and Woodland Park Zoological Society do not have to release documents to citizens under the Washington State Public Records Act.
Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, addresses the Seattle City Council during a public hearing asking them to withhold funding to the Woodland Park Zoo until it retires the remaining two elephants, Chai and Bamboo, to sanctuaries.
“A supermajority of Seattleites want Bamboo and Chai retired to a sanctuary which has 24/7 monitoring,” Fortgang said. “The mayor and City Council need to exercise their authority to have Bamboo and Chai retired to a healthy sanctuary environment before we have more dead elephants.”
Before the hearing, letters on behalf of Chai and Bamboo were sent to the council by national animal protection groups and advocates, including the Humane Society of the United States; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation (PETA); Bob Barker, former host of “The Price is Right” and a longtime animal advocate; the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust of Nairobi, Kenya; and the Born Free USA/Born Free Foundation.
If you missed your chance to be there, you can send in a written comment on the mayor’s proposed budget to Councilman Nick Licata, Attn: Emilia Sanchez, Deputy City Clerk, PO Box 94728, Seattle, WA 98124. Comments will be accepted until the council adopts its final budget on or before Nov. 24
The Seattle Times also has a poll on its website seeking public opinion on the future of the zoo’s two remaining elephants.