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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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.
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.
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
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.
“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.
By Vivian Yeiser Laramore
The tick of time is out of rhyme,
Where wild things wait for death,
Watching the stars through iron bars,
And breathing each other’s breath.
But little man with his civic plan,
To conquer and subdue,
Acquires a thrill from broken will,
Of beasts in the city zoo.
HuffPo Article: Seattle Zoo Elephant’s Unexpected Death Prompts Important Discussion About Animal Captivity
The tragic and sudden death of Watoto, WPZ’s African elephant, once again has put the Zoo into the national spotlight. Huffington Post picked up the story.
Here is an excerpt:
“In the wild at 45 years old they’re still having babies,” Alyne Fortgang, a Seattle resident and critic of the zoo’s elephant exhibit, told the AP. “Watoto was lame. She had arthritis, chronic bouts of colic and skin conditions, all caused by her environment.”
For years, activists have lamented the continuation of elephant exhibits at zoos and called for the animals to be relocated to sanctuaries. They assert that the confined living quarters negatively impact the well-being of elephants.
Friends of the Woodland Park Zoo, an advocacy group that advocates for the relocation of the zoo’s elephants to sanctuaries, said in a post on their website that “Watoto’s life must not be in vain” and “confinement in a zoo takes a physical and psychological toll on these far-ranging and intelligent animals.”
Elephant advocates from all over the region joined in Watoto’s memory to hold a vigil. We held signs at the street entrance to Woodland Park Zoo for about an hour. Then we marched to the gate entrance where we put a big picture of Watoto. One by one each of us laid a flower “at Watoto’s feet”. The silent meditation was begun with a gong. But the silence was punctuated with crying.