“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.