Woodland Park Zoo board members (from left) Laurie Stewart, Jeff Leppo, Deborah Jensen and Bruce Bohmke listen as community members urge them Jan. 27, 2015, to send elephants Chai and Bamboo to a sanctuary rather than another zoo. (Photos by Karen Ducey Photography)
It’s rare to find zoo directors and elephant advocates agreeing on anything, but at the conclusion of Tuesday’s public comment period Woodland Park Zoo board member Deborah Jensen and animal welfare advocate Marla Katz came to a general agreement: Conservation is not captivity.
What exactly conservation means, however, keeps them divided.
During the 45-minute public comment period held prior to the board’s regular business meeting Tuesday, community members urged the zoo’s board of directors to send elephants Chai and Bamboo to a sanctuary rather than another accredited zoo. Attendance hovered just below 100 people, many from the Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants.
In November 2014, the zoo announced plans to relocate its elephants, Bamboo and Chai, to another accredited zoo after the death of African elephant, Watoto. The relocation plan was not on the agenda for the business meeting because zoo staff is still working on finding a new home for the elephants.
Animal welfare advocates feel the zoo cannot take proper care of elephants citing Seattle’s chilly weather and an elephant enclosure which has hard surfaces and lack of space. They would prefer Bamboo, 47, and Chai, 35, be sent to a wildlife sanctuary where they could socialize with a larger herd.
“We are all really passionate about animals,” Jensen said, thanking a group of advocates for attending the meeting. “Conservation is the long term survival of the species,” she explained later. “I don’t think we’re able to get people to stop killing elephants if they never see one.”
Katz has a different view of conservation. “The public is aware that elephants don’t belong in tiny little exhibits,” she said. While she acknowledges that the zoo does some good work she says, “The zoo perpetuates that conservation is their rationale for having zoos. The AZA (American Association of Zoos and Aquariums) is drumbeating it as its PR/marketing message. They use conservation to put a veil on captivity.”
There is no set timeline for the elephants move, but Jensen stressed they would like to keep Chai and Bamboo together.
Said Katz, “We don’t want to hurt the zoo, we just want the zoo to stop hurting elephants.”
According to a recent article in The Seattle Times, Mayor Ed Murray and five members of the City Council sent a letter to Jensen on Monday asking her to send Chai and Bamboo to a sanctuary rather than another zoo.
The Woodland Park Zoo / Woodland Park Zoological Society receives $10 million a year in taxpayer money, $108 million for the past 10 years since its operating agreement with the city began.
Since 1965, the Woodland Park Zoological Society has operated as a private, nonprofit corporation formed by Washington state citizens. The city of Seattle owns the underlying grounds on which the zoo operates, while the WPZS owns the animals at the zoo.
The Times reports that council members Sally Bagshaw, Bruce Harrell, Mike O’Brien, Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant recommend that the elephants be transferred to a facility “that is focused primarily on the welfare of the animals” and asked that they receive a decision by Feb. 27.
A report from Zoocheck, a nonprofit advocacy group for captive wildlife, was presented by Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants at Tuesday’s meeting. It stated that no zoo can give Chai and Bamboo all that they need.