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.
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.
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.
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.