Elephant-welfare activists urged the Woodland Park Zoo’s board of directors to relocate the zoo’s two elephants to a sanctuary during a public-comment period Tuesday, the first time the board has met since some activists tried to storm a meeting in December.
During a 45-minute session at the start of the meeting, speakers, many of them members of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, asked the board to reconsider sending Chai and Bamboo to another accredited zoo and send them i nstead to a sanctuary. Members also presented a report that they said demonstrates that no accredited zoo exceeds the conditions found at Woodland Park Zoo.
Zoo officials announced in November that the zoo would close its elephant exhibit and relocate the elephants so they could be part of a larger, social herd. The announcement was met with criticism from some activists, who said sending Chai, 35, and Bamboo, 47, to another zoo would continue the elephants’ trauma of being in captivity.
In December, approximately 50 activists tried to enter the zoo’s education center, where a board meeting was being held, after they weren’t allowed inside by zoo officials, citing space constraints. Tuesday’s public comment period was an effort to accommodate a larger group of community members, board of directors chair Laurie Stewart said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, speakers cited the possibility of the two elephants being separated, lack of spatial needs at other zoos and the death of Watoto, a Woodland Park Zoo elephant who was euthanized after collapsing in August 2014.
“We don’t want to hurt the zoo, we just want to zoo to stop hurting elephants,” Marla Katz, of Capitol Hill, said during the meeting.
The elephant relocation was not on the agenda for the board meeting because staff is still determining the best place for them as part of a multi-faceted process, Stewart said. Zoo CEO Deborah Jensen said the process involves coming up with a specific set of criteria for the elephants’ relocation, and a sanctuary might not meet those needs.
“Just because it has ‘sanctuary’ at the end of its name doesn’t mean it will meet our set of criteria,” Jensen said.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and five members of the City Council echoed the activists’ requests in a letter sent to Jensen Monday. In the letter, Murray, councilmembers Sally Bagshaw, Bruce Harrell, Mike O’Brien, Nick Licata and Kshama Sawant asked that the elephants be transferred to a facility “that is focused primarily on the welfare of the animals” and that they be advised of the relocation decision by Feb. 27.