Seattle, WA — Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants is hopeful the Elephant Task Force will reach the conclusion that elephants are not suited to be in Woodland Park Zoo’s elephant exhibit—especially in Seattle’s climate. We must question what we are told and by whom. Five people on the task force have been or are on the Zoo Board and others have a working connection with WPZ. Not a single member of the task force represents an animal advocacy perspective.
Experts outside of the zoo industry use science and decades of research to prove that these highly intelligent and social animals’ needs cannot be met in a static zoo environment.
WPZ’s “award-winning naturalistic [elephant] exhibit” was designed almost 30 years ago; long before much was known about what elephants need to thrive—and to not suffer. No matter how many times WPZ tells us that the keepers and veterinarians give excellent care, (and we agree that is true) it does not change the fact that WPZ doesn’t have the critical components essential for a physically and psychologically healthy existence: Space, climate, novel experiences and social opportunities.
Space is essential to these far ranging animals. Without it they suffer from foot disease, the main killer of elephants in zoos. WPZ’s one acre is woefully inadequate for the planet’s largest land mammal. WPZ’s own medical records show this lack of movement results in painful and worsening lameness, arthritis and chronic foot issues.
Seattle’s wet and cold climate forces these intelligent animals, who sleep only 4 hours a day, to be locked in a tiny, barren indoor stall for 16–17 hours, every day, for over half of the year. It is no surprise Bamboo, Chai and Watoto exhibit stereotypical behaviors which is the mind’s way of coping with trauma, stress and crushing boredom.
The three elephants are a dysfunctional group; none are bonded to each other. They do not engage in healthy elephant behaviors: synchronized play or touching each other with their trunks. When in the barn, either Bamboo or Watoto are locked in solitary confinement due to possible aggression.
While we are skeptical the task force will recommend what is best for Bamboo, Chai and Watoto: retirement from living on display in Seattle, we hope they have the courage to recommend significantly improving the lives of these three individuals.