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There are no winners: Zoo’s elephants transported out of Seattle

IMAGE: Co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, Alyne Fortgang (left), cries in despair “I’m so sorry!” after a truck transporting elephants Chai, 36 and Bamboo,48 left for the Oklahoma City Zoo. (© Karen Ducey Photography)
April 15, 2015
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Seattle, WA – Under a setting sun Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo elephants left the only home they’ve known for decades and headed southeast on a 2,000 mile journey to the Oklahoma City Zoo on Wednesday, April 15. Locked in individual windowless metal crates secured on a flatbed trailer there will be no outside breaks for Chai, 36 or Bamboo, 48, until they arrive an estimated 35-40 hours later.

It seems to mark the end of a bitter dispute between animal advocates who for nine years have been trying to get the elephants moved to a sanctuary and Woodland Park Zoo officials who want to keep them in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) system.

IMAGE: Elephants Chai and Bamboo leave the Woodland Park Zoo in windowless crates strapped on a flatbed trailer on Wednesday, April 15, 2015.

Elephants Chai and Bamboo leave the Woodland Park Zoo in windowless crates secured on a flatbed trailer on Wednesday, April 15, 2015. (© Karen Ducey Photography)

As the giant truck rolled out the gate zoo personnel sobbed outside the south entrance while elephant advocates cried tears of disappointment. “I’m so sorry!” a devastated Alyne Fortgang repeatedly shouted in their direction. As co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, she called the event a tragedy for the elephants and the city.

Not a word was heard from zoo officials, the Seattle city council or Mayor Ed Murray. (update: “City Council’s Kshama Sawant worked to block elephant move”, Woodland Park Zoo’s statement

The popular pedestrian path running adjacent to the zoo was blocked by zoo security officers preventing onlookers from watching the elephants being loaded into the crates.

Visitors to the zoo were faced with a closed elephant exhibit after they paid their entrance fee.

IMAGE: The path running alongside the Woodland Park Zoo elephant barn was blocked to pedestrains in Seattle, WA on April 15, 2015. (© Karen Ducey Photography)

The path running alongside the Woodland Park Zoo elephant barn was blocked to pedestrains in Seattle, WA on April 15, 2015. (© Karen Ducey Photography)

A decision by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals today granted the zoo the right to move the elephants. In a latest attempt to block their move the Elephant Justice Project had hoped to keep an injunction in place in their case accusing the zoo of violating the Endangered Species Act. After the judge’s ruling the zoo wasted no time. Within hours the elephants were gone.

Later, in an unannounced press conference, zoo President and CEO Deborah Jensen said she thought their move to the Oklahoma City Zoo was for the best. Previously she expressed the zoo’s hope that Chai and Bamboo will be accepted into the small family herd at the Oklahoma City Zoo.

Seattle animal advocates disagree. According to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, Asian elephants “live in herds of related females and only very young (nursing) males.” In addition, Oklahoma City’s extreme climate temperatures will mean more time locked in stalls for the elephants.  The OKC Zoo also has a breeding program and has not ruled out artificially inseminating Chai, who has already undergone the procedure unsuccessfully 112 times.  If the Oklahoma City Zoo succeeds in acquiring more elephants after the transfer of Chai and Bamboo to their goal of twelve, each elephant will have considerably less space to stand in.  The elephants are also expected to perform tricks for treats in front of large paying crowds.

Security officers from the Woodland Park Zoo stand on an overpass they blocked off to the public on April 15, 2015.

Security officers from the Woodland Park Zoo stand on an overpass they blocked off to the public on April 15, 2015.

Eleven police cars stood at the ready in the Woodland Park Zoo's south parking lot.

Eleven police cars stood at the ready in the Woodland Park Zoo’s south parking lot.

The elephant exhibit at the Woodland Park Zoo was closed to the public.

The elephant exhibit at the Woodland Park Zoo was closed to the public.

IMAGE: Zoo security was everywhere including this nervous officer roaming the grounds near the elephant exhibit on a bicycle.

Zoo security was everywhere including this nervous officer roaming the grounds near the elephant exhibit on a bicycle. (© Karen Ducey Photography)

Marla Katz, (left) from Seattle, Wash. and Alyne Fortgang are devastated Woodland Park Zoo elephants Chai and Bamboo are going to be transferred to the Oklahoma City Zoo instead of to a sanctuary.

Marla Katz, (left) from Seattle, Wash. and Alyne Fortgang are devastated Woodland Park Zoo elephants Chai and Bamboo are going to be transferred to the Oklahoma City Zoo instead of to a sanctuary.

Alyne Fortgang (left), co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants after the truck has left.

The scene outside the Woodland Park Zoo gates after watching the elephant’s departure included Alyne Fortgang (left), co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, people in the community and lots of local media.

IMAGE: One of the large crates used for transporting elephants stands outside the elephant barn of the Woodland Park Zoo on April 8, 2015.

One of the large crates used for transporting elephants stands outside the elephant barn of the Woodland Park Zoo on April 8, 2015.

IMAGE: Visitors to the Woodland Park Zoo watch Chai, 36, eat hay from a converted garbage container as Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of the Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants looks observes on April 8, 2015.

Visitors to the Woodland Park Zoo watch Chai, 36, eat hay from a converted garbage container as Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of the Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants observes on April 8, 2015.

IMAGE: Woodland Park Zoo elephant, Bamboo, 48, rubs against a pole in front of the barn gate on April 8, 2015.

Woodland Park Zoo elephant, Bamboo, 48, rubs up against a pole in front of the barn gate on April 8, 2015.

 

Growing public concern about elephants in captivity was heard around the globe last month when the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced plans to retire their elephants to a sanctuary in Florida. While still in the entertainment business, the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums justifies its breeding programs as conservation efforts. A lengthy investigation in the Seattle Times “Glamour Beasts” revealed however, that more elephants die in zoos than are born.

 

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