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Editorial: Learn from the death of zoo elephant Watoto, move remaining elephants

From the Seattle Times, an editorial on the tragic death of Watoto. Here is an excerpt:

A NUMBER of lessons should be drawn from the investigation into the death of Watoto the elephant. Among them: Chai and Bamboo, the two surviving females in the Woodland Park Zoo’s pachyderm exhibit, deserve to live out their days in a warm and spacious sanctuary.

Spare these two beloved creatures the pain Watoto suffered before she was euthanized on Aug. 22.

Zoo officials say they do not know whether the 45-year-old African elephant lay down or fell. But chronic arthritis in Watoto’s leg joints likely rendered her unable to stand back up, according to Woodland Park’s director of animal health, Dr. Darin Collins.

The city should remove Chai and Bamboo from captivity as soon as possible. The zoo should also reveal how long Watoto was down, as well as why records indicate no one checked on the exhibit in the hours leading up to her collapse.

Had she been found sooner, she might have stood a chance of survival — at least this time.

Read the full editorial and leave a comment on the Seattle Times site

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Zoo Captivity and Lack of Monitoring are to Blame for Watoto’s Premature Death

For Immediate Release

Watoto kept in solitary confinement

Watoto, 1969 – 2014

Woodland Park Zoo’s admission yesterday that Watoto, an elephant who died on August 22, 2014 after she was found down in the morning, confirmed in part what we already knew: Watoto died from chronic health issues caused by zoo confinement, most notably debilitating arthritis. But the Zoo raised more questions than it answered and continues to ignore two critical questions: How long was Watoto down and who, if anyone, monitored the elephant exhibit the night and morning of Watoto’s death?

The Zoo’s medical records showed steady deterioration in Watoto’s arthritic and lame condition. The Zoo’s records state “chronic reduced range of motion” and “increased lameness.” The lameness had gotten so extreme that she was taken off display for a time prior to July 21st, 2014. Arthritis and lameness in elephants confined in zoos is directly related to their environment and among the leading causes of premature death. Watoto was forced to stand on hard substrates during prolonged lock up in the barn and on unyielding compacted ground outdoors.

Records obtained by Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants confirm that nighttime security did not visit the elephant exhibit the evening and morning of August 21 and 22. Security staff made rounds which included patrols of the parking lots, gates, fences, the carousel, the rose garden, and furnace with no visit to the elephant exhibit.

This means that Watoto could have been down for at least eight hours before keepers discovered her the morning of the 22nd. The Zoo acknowledged that it can be life-threatening for an elephant to be lying down for an extended period of time. Why did the Zoo fail to provide overnight monitoring to an elephant known to suffer from chronic lameness, which put her at risk of falling down or increased her inability to rise on her own?

Despite Watoto’s decline and the grave consequences associated with a fall, Woodland Park Zoo’s Elephant Management Protocol does not include any plan to manage emergencies involving its elephants; even emergencies as common in the zoo industry as elephant falls.

Attempts to raise Watoto the morning of the 22nd with cloth straps and machinery were unsuccessful. While the Zoo took “several hourly blood draws,” it never called the fire department to attempt to raise her. Elephants in similar deadly predicaments in zoos have successfully been raised with fire department equipment, as was the case with Maggie in Alaska, who went down twice. Maggie is now thriving at the PAWS sanctuary in California.

“If the zoo had adequate monitoring in place or called in the fire department to raise Watoto, she might be alive today” says Alyne Fortgang, Co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants.

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo urges Mayor Murray, the Seattle City Council and the Woodland Park Zoological Society to immediately retire the two surviving elephants, Chai and Bamboo to a sanctuary. At a sanctuary they can experience what was denied to Watoto: the opportunity to heal from the physical and psychological damage caused by captivity and the chance to live a long life in a warm climate on vast acreage.

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Seattle’s Global March for Elephants and Rhinos

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants was one of the sponsors of Seattle’s Global March for Elephants and Rhinos. We joined about 130 cities worldwide to bring awareness to the poaching crisis with may cause the extinction of these species within our lifetime. Please sign the petition and donate to the organizations listed. It is through their worthy and perilous efforts that these animals will be saved.

Check out the article and great photos on Rescue News about the event

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Article: The logical fallacy of zoo elephant captivity and conservation

From LivingHumane.com by Christie Legally:

WPZ elephants in the barn

WPZ elephants in the barn

I recently read a letter in the Seattle Times from a reader who believed the elephants at Woodland Park Zoo should remain there, rather than be retired to a sanctuary, so that these elephants can make people aware of conservation efforts needed for wild elephants.  (See letter “Keep the Exhibit.”)

It is a logical fallacy to state that keeping elephants in zoos promotes conservation of wild elephants. This claim creates a false relationship between captivity and conservation so as to assume that one can influence the other.

Not only has this relationship been shown to be incorrect by sociological research (reference), but this statement is like saying that we can fight crime in New York City by planting flowers in Seattle.  To stop the poaching of wild elephants in Africa and Asia, we must address the direct issues that lead to poaching such as poverty and the ivory trade.

Both poaching and captivity of elephants in zoos and circus are crimes against elephants.  To state that the latter prevents the former is like saying that being robbed by a stranger prevents you from being assaulted by a stranger.  Crimes against elephants must be dealt with at the source in Africa, Asia and Seattle.

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Help wild elephant and rhinos: sign petition and donate

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants has worked tirelessly to give Seattle’s elephants Bamboo, Chai and Watoto a much deserved retirement to sanctuary after decades of confinement at Woodland Park Zoo. Sadly, Watoto died before this could happen.

Although our cause is local, we have never lost sight of the growing crisis of elephants worldwide who die young due to the poaching crisis of unequaled savagery and consequence. But let’s not forget that elephants confined in zoos die young as well: Watoto was only 45 years old.

We are asking that you help elephants and rhinos in the wild who are in danger of imminent extinction. Please help the anti-poaching efforts of these extraordinary organizations by donating to their worthy and perilous efforts:

Big Life: https://biglife.org
African Wildlife Fund: http://www.awf.org
Save the Elephants: http://savetheelephants.org
Wild Aid: Working in China to stop demand. http://www.wildaid.org
Endangered Species Protection Fund: http://www.espfund.org

Sign this petition to help:
Born Free PETITION: http://www.bloodyivory.org/petition

From African Wildlife Foundation’s web site:

Rhinos: In the wild, the adult black or white rhino has no predators except for humans. Rhinos are hunted and killed for their horns. One rhino is killed every 20 hours in South Africa alone. The major demand for rhino horn is in Asia, where it is used in ornamental carvings and traditional medicine. Rhino horn is touted as a cure for hangovers, cancer, and impotence. Their horns are not true horns; they are actually made of keratin—the same material that makes up our hair and nails. Truly, rhino horn is as effective at curing cancer as chewing on your fingernails.

Elephants: The large tusks on either side of the elephant’s face—used to forage for food and water—have long been desired by people. Poachers kill elephants for their ivory, which is then sold and made into anything from jewelry to religious objects. About 100 elephants are killed every day. At current poaching rates, elephant populations may not survive 10 years in the wild.

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Heartfelt plea to Portland Metro Council in Watoto’s memory

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Action Alert: Show City Council your commitment to retiring the two surviving elephants

Elephant advocates at City Council

Elephant advocates at a previous City Council

What: A showing of commitment at the FULL Council meeting. Kids are encouraged to come.

When: Monday, September 22, at 1:30pm

Where: Seattle City Hall, 600 4th Ave, Seattle, WA 98104

Meet at 1:30pm in front of City Hall at the 4th and Cherry entrance. We will head up to the City Hall chambers on the second floor at 1:45pm to attend the 2pm City Council meeting.

FREE: t-shirts provided with the message: Seattle ♥ Elephants ♥ Sanctuary

Please reply to let us know you if you will be wearing an orange t-shirt from a previous event or if we need to order one for you.

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Zoo elephants: By penning them up, zoo is acting against nature

A great letter to the editor in the Seattle Times from Katy Flynn of Kent.

Bravo to Judy Nicastro for her brilliant opinion piece advocating sanctuary for the remaining Woodland Park Zoo elephants, Chai and Bamboo [“Political leadership for the elephants,” Opinion, Sept. 4].

To hear the news Watoto had been euthanized was as shocking as it was heartbreaking. Elephants are sentient beings who deserve more space than the Woodland Park Zoo offers.

As Watoto has shown us, keeping huge land mammals in woefully small enclosures is perilous and obviously against their nature. This is done in the interest of those who view elephants as living conservation symbols at best, and as entertainers at worst.

In reporting Watoto’s death, Michael J. Berens pointed out “Watoto had no known medical problems.”

The drumbeat gets ever louder. Are Seattle’s leaders listening?

Katy Flynn, Kent

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The passing of Watoto

Watoto

Watoto

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants is profoundly shocked and saddened by the passing of Watoto. She is now at peace. No more solitary confinement for up to 17 hours in a barren cage. No more lock-up in a tiny section of a yard. No more daily flushing of the socket where she lost her tusk from an incident in the elephant restraining device. No more pain from lameness, arthritis, colic, and painful skin problems.

At 45 years old, Watoto should have been in the prime of her life, still having calves. Sadly, confinement in a zoo causes elephants to die young. Over half of the 76 elephants who have died in AZA-accredited facilities since 2000 never reached the age of 40. According to National Geographic, an African elephant’s natural lifespan is up to 70 years old.

We hope Woodland Park Zoo’s Board and Management will reflect upon Watoto’s early death and make the decision to allow the two surviving elephants to retire to a sanctuary. Anything less diminishes our humanity. R.I.P. Watoto.

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Thoughts from David Hancocks, former Director of Woodland Park Zoo, 1976 – 1998

“The City’s elected officials have the power and the moral authority to make decisions….like the City Council of Toronto, they can send the elephants to a home where they will find new freedoms, and deep contentment.”

A general feeling among former Woodland Park Zoo staff members I’ve contacted regarding Watoto’s death can be characterized as a sense not only of sadness at her passing, but also of the unhappy life she had.

Like every other zoo elephant, Watoto should never have been abducted from her mother, and never suffered the pain and indignities that is so common among zoo elephants. We can only be grateful she has been spared the anxiety of having to move to another zoo​​, as WPZ had intended, although it is true there are other zoos who could have offered her better conditions than at WPZ.

It is a matter of extreme unhappiness for me to have to say such a thing about WPZ. At one time the Humane Society of the United States gave WPZ its highest ranking. Today, it is listed as one of the worst for elephant care by Animal Welfare organizations.

It was always deeply frustrating​ when I served as Director of WPZ ​that I was thwarted by City Hall to search for a better home for the elephants. My suggestion in the early 1970s to move them to a place with more space and better climate was met with official and public hostility. I did quietly insure there was no elephant exhibit in the Zoo’s Long Range Plan, adopted by City Council in 1976, in the hope that during the life of the Plan the public’s attitude would shift, and elephants could enjoy a better home. But after eight years I resigned, frustrated at not being able to make progress on this issue.

Since then, Elephant Sanctuaries have appeared in America. They are models of care, expertise, affection and respect. They have introduced greatly improved methods of management and care. Zoos have belatedly adopted some of these progressive changes, though few have appeared at WPZ. Watoto died before she experienced one day of free choice and the company of her own kind in such a Sanctuary.

However, the opportunity for Bamboo and Chai to experience this level of freedom and care still exists. Seattle should honor the life and death of Watoto by continuing and intensifying the fight to send all the WPZ elephants to Sanctuary: to a home where they will be cherished, protected, and, most critically, esteemed as individuals.

The Zoo holds the animals only on behalf​ of the people of Seattle​. The City’s elected officials have the power and the moral authority to make decisions on the lives of the zoo animals that accord to the public ideal. Just like the City Council of Toronto, they can send the elephants to a home where they will find new freedoms, and deep contentment. It is what Seattle owes them, and what we all owe to Watoto, who endured such a poor life, from her first years to her death.

David Hancocks
Melbourne, Australia

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