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Opinion Northwest

Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

October 23, 2014 at 12:34 PM

Bob Barker to Woodland Park Zoo elephants Bamboo and Chai: Come on down (to a sanctuary)!

When Mayor Ed Murray delivers his proposed budget Thursday evening at Seattle City Hall, he won’t be able to miss the elephant (advocates) in the room.

Members of the Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants issued a press release Thursday announcing plans to pack the 5:30 p.m. meeting. They’ll “urge City Council members to withhold funding from Woodland Park Zoo until the Zoo’s two surviving elephants are retired to a sanctuary.” The mayor’s budget blueprint reportedly includes $7 million in taxpayer funding for the Woodland Park Zoo.

The Seattle Times editorial board, the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals are among the institutions that have advocated for sending Bamboo and Chai to a sanctuary where they can live out their days in a warmer climate and with more space to move around. The Woodland Park Zoo’s third elephant, Watoto, was euthanized in August after she fell and could not get up. As of 12:15 p.m. on Thursday, here’s the (very unscientific) results of an Oct. 13 Opinion Northwest poll asking readers what should happen to the two remaining elephants:

(Screenshot of poll featured in Oct. 13 Opinion Northwest blog post.)

(Screenshot of poll featured in Oct. 13 Opinion Northwest blog post.)

Murray and a few council members have indicated they are ready to take another look at the plight of the zoo’s elephant exhibit. Perhaps they need another strong nudge to move faster. Ahead of Thursday’s meeting, Friends co-founder and elephant advocate Alyne Fortgang emailed me a Sept. 30 letter from “The Price is Right” host and animal rights activist Bob Barker to zoo and city leaders. Here’s what that letter states:  

Dear Mayor Murray, Council Members and Dr. Jensen,

I have devoted much of my time to helping animals and have been an advocate for releasing elephants to sanctuaries for many years. In October of last year, the three elephants from the Toronto Zoo were successfully retired to the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). As you may be aware, PAWS provides elephants with space to walk, forage, swim and live their lives to the fullest.

Chai and Bamboo in Seattle have a similar poor quality of life as the elephants had in Toronto. (Sadly, Watoto died before she could have a single day in a sanctuary.) Like Toronto, Seattle’s elephants only have about an acre yard. Toronto Zoo’s elephant barn was 4 times larger than the barn at Woodland Park Zoo yet Toronto’s City Council and Zoo Board felt it was not large enough.

Seattle’s wet and cold climate forces these highly intelligent animals to be locked up in tiny cages in the barn. This 16 – 17 hours of daily confinement lasts for over half of the year. The conditions in which your elephants live are physically and psychologically damaging to these far ranging animals who are genetically wired to move great distances.

No matter how many millions of tax payer dollars Woodland Park Zoo and the City of Seattle spend on improving the elephant exhibit, the Zoo is landlocked and can never provide the amount of space these giants need. The Zoo cannot change the climate that causes the prolonged lock up.

Retiring the elephants and creating a non-live exhibit would make more sense; freeing up money to save elephants in the wild.

I’m asking Seattle’s Mayor, City Council and Woodland Park Zoo’s management to make the humane decision to retire Bamboo and Chai to PAWS.

PAWS stands for the Performing Animal Welfare Society in California.

Last year, The Huffington Post reported that Barker paid $1 million to move three elephants from the Toronto Zoo to the sanctuary. I’m curious to find out whether PAWS has room to accept two more elephants, and whether Barker might shell out some funds to transfer Chai and Bamboo down south.

Comments | Topics: bob barker, elephants, woodland park zoo

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