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Special Report: An Optimal Future for Woodland Park Zoo Elephants

Our response to the Zoo's captive elephant plan

Updates

Editorial: Time to move the Woodland Park Zoo’s elephants

A Seattle Times editorial advocates sending the Woodland Park Zoo elephants to a sanctuary, rather than keeping them in their cramped “habitat.” Here is an excerpt:

The zoo plans to spend up to $3 million over five years, essentially hanging new curtains. Zookeepers would install video cameras in the barns, provide timed feeding devices and put up weather shelters that make the point the elephants are stranded in the wrong climate.

Instead of a reasonable plan to send the zoo’s three elephants to a sanctuary, the talk is about squeezing a fourth elephant into the same cramped space.

Not unlike the elephants themselves, the elephant enclosure retains the same aching footprint. Add the fact that two of the female elephants do not get along, which makes their living space, well, all the more truncated.

Read the full editorial on the Seattle Times site.

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For Immediate Release: Zoo Fights a Taxpayer’s Lawsuit for Transparency What is our Zoo Hiding?

Seattle, WA – Alyne Fortgang, a Seattle resident, filed a lawsuit on March 12, 2014 seeking a court order declaring that the Woodland Park Zoological Society be made subject to Washington State’s Public Records Act.

The Zoo’s answer flatly rejects any obligation under the law to tell tax payers how they spend our money or care for the animals.

Fortgang is Co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants and as such, has filed numerous public records requests to the Zoo about the health and welfare of the three elephants held there. The Zoo has routinely withheld information, claimed it had no records pertaining to the request, or provided information that later would prove to be grossly inaccurate.

Fortgang asserts the Zoo functions as a “hybrid” public agency when it took over running the Zoo as a public park under a contract with the City of Seattle. That contract promises substantial tax dollars which are essential to the Zoo’s operations. In 2013, Zoo received over $10.4 million taxpayer dollars, which increases each year.  The contract also provides the Zoo with the use of City-owned buildings and park land for free.

“Public records laws exist so tax payers know how their money is being spent.  What is the Zoo trying to hide?” said Alyne Fortgang.

A copy of Fortgang’s lawsuit is available here:
http://freewpzelephants.org/Fortgang_v_WPZ.pdf
Zoo’s response to law suit available here:
http://freewpzelephants.org/WPZ_response.pdf

Alyne Fortgang is co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, a NARN Campaign.  Friends raises awareness about the plight of the three elephants living on display at the Woodland Park Zoo.  Friends hopes the Zoo will make the humane decision to retire Bamboo, Chai, and Watoto to a sanctuary in a warmer climate that would offer them vast spaces to roam.

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Plenty of news coverage on the WPZ elephants

WPZ’s elephant program made it into The Wrap:

Dumbo, Meet Thy Namesake: The geniuses in charge of the Woodland Park Zoo have decided to solve the problem of driving the zoo’s elephants slowly insane by confining them in inadequate space by possibly adding yet another elephant….  Seriously: If the zoo won’t listen to reason, science, public opinion, or even a lawsuit, it looks like the best option is…”

From the Seattle Times article referenced above:

Woodland Park Zoo’s insignificant and insincere commitment to the elephants well-being will do little to alleviate their tedium, and the unhealthy physical and psychological conditions from which they suffer.  It’s time the Zoo stop ignoring science and community values and retire the elephants to a sanctuary.”

And finally, check out this great article on Wallyhood.org. Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of FOWPZE contributed.

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Response to the Zoo’s captive elephant plan

Woodland Park Zoo’s plan for the elephant program sadly lacks any vision or compassion for the elephants held captive in Seattle.  But what would one expect when the plan was based on the biased Task Force; a zoo-selected panel that was intended to reach the results we got in the Zoo’s lack-of-vision plan.

The Zoo’s plan is a complete rejection of science.  Decades of research has shown that the earth’s largest land mammal travels great distances, are intelligent problem solvers and care deeply for their family and companions. About elephants living in zoo displays, The Scientific American Analysis found: ”These tortuous conditions inflict serious physical and psychological damage on such smart and sensitive animals.”  ”…captive breeding programs should be terminated.”

The Zoo’s decision to ignore science is clear. The Seattle Times interview with Deborah Jensen, President of Woodland Park Zoo revealed this:

One elephant (Watoto) is being sent away and the Zoo hopes that two elephants will be added plus a baby through breeding.  So if their plan comes to fruition, the display will hold 5 elephants who will effectively have less space in the already inadequate 1 acre. Their indoor stall will be less than the human equivalent of the space prisoners had in Alcatraz.

The Zoo’s 5-year plan calls for improvements to the yard. They will add wind/rain shelters which supports our claim that this climate is unsuitable for elephants which now forces them into a cage-like stall up to 17 hours a day for over half of the year. They will add timed feeders.  Is this to reduce the keepers’ hours and effectively reduce keeper interaction which will further isolate these social animals?  In the 8 years Friends has been criticizing the Zoo about its elephant program, the improved “complexity” of the yard has been little more than the addition of a few boomer balls and dead logs. The closed-in sightline for these intelligent, far-ranging animals hasn’t changed since 1989 — and will stay the same until they die at the zoo.

The meager amount of $1.5 – $3 million dollars over 5 years, which includes funding conservation efforts, will do very little to improve the quality of life of any elephants living in this tiny, land-locked display.  San Diego and LA Zoo spent over $42 million to improve their exhibits.  The National Zoo in Washington D.C spent $52 million.

The Zoo cites the horrific decimation and suffering of elephants in the wild as justification for causing ours to suffer. Their mantra that one needs to see an elephant in order to learn about them and to act to conserve them is not supported by the community they serve. 66% of Seattleites in a recent survey said people can learn about elephants and their conservation via an exhibit that does not have live elephants. The survey also showed that 97% of Seattleites knew about elephant poaching. They learned about this crisis from varied sources but not from the Zoo – which would have been the obvious answer.  We contend that people can be inspired to contribute to poaching efforts via a state-of-the-art, non-live exhibit than by seeing a dysfunctional elephant swaying, pacing and head bobbing.

Woodland Park Zoo’s insignificant and insincere commitment to the elephants they hold captive will do little to alleviate their tedium, and the unhealthy physical and psychological conditions from which they suffer.

Please express your outrage. Write to our politicians and Zoo asking that our elephants be retired to a sanctuary in a warmer climate with a vast amount of space: http://www.freewpzelephants.com/you-can-help/

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For Immediate Release: Friends and IDA Slam WPZ’s Plan For Elephant Program

Seattle, Wash. – Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, a local advocacy group, and In Defense Of Animals (IDA), an international animal protection organization, denounce the Zoo’s plan released today for the future of its elephant program.

The Zoo’s decision to keep Asian elephants Bamboo and Chai, relocate African elephant Watoto to another zoo, and bring in additional elephants for breeding defies science and Seattle community values. The Zoo’s plan rests on the biased report of its own self-appointed Task Force, which refused to hear from recommended objective experts outside of those handpicked by the Zoo. The agenda, as we expected, was to produce today’s results in order to justify business as usual while still ignoring what should be of paramount importance—what is best for Bamboo, Chai, and Watoto.

“The Zoo is stubbornly clinging to the archaic and inhumane practice of housing elephants at a time when 27 other zoos have closed or plan to close their elephants exhibits, including Tacoma’s Pt. Defiance Zoo,” said Nicole Meyer, Director of IDA’s Elephant Protection Campaign.

These Zoos acknowledged what decades of scientific research has shown—elephants fare poorly in captivity. After an in-depth review of scientific studies, the Scientific American recently concluded that “Confined elephants often spend their time standing around in cramped quarters. These tortuous conditions inflict serious physical and psychological damage on such smart and sensitive animals.”

The San Diego Zoo and LA Zoo each spent more than $42 million dollars to improve their elephant exhibits. “The mere $1.3 to $3 million dollars our zoo proposes over five years is a drop in the bucket, and it also includes funding conservation. This amount is grossly inadequate and will not significantly improve the elephants’ quality of life,” said Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of Friends. “If the Zoo truly cared about conservation, it could free upwards of a million dollars each year for conservation by retiring the elephants to a sanctuary and replacing the current elephant exhibit with a virtual state-of-the art educational program.”

The Zoo’s plan is also woefully out of step with the community it serves.  An October survey showed that 62% of Seattleites favor sending the elephants to a sanctuary in a warmer climate with a vast amount of space, and 66% believe children can learn about elephants and conservation through exhibits that do not include live elephants. “The Zoo cannot change the fact that our wet and cold climate forces these intelligent, far-ranging animals into a cage-like stall for 16-17 hours every day for over half of the year,” said Fortgang.

See also, the Woodland Park Zoo’s press release

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Editorial: Let Woodland Park Zoo’s three aging elephants retire to a sanctuary

Check out the latest Seattle Times Editorial about the Woodland Park Zoo elephants. Here’s an excerpt:

If the Woodland Park Zoo board of directors does not announce aggressive plans to relocate the zoo’s three aging elephants, then it has no credible response.

Last year, a task force and an expert review report looked at the zoo’s cramped elephant exhibit. A majority concluded the elephant exhibit needed to be renovated, and the youngest female, Chai, should be naturally bred to grow the herd with a calf.

A minority said the elephant exhibit needed to be improved, but the current elephants should be allowed to age out or retire. Once they are gone, closure of the exhibit should follow.

No. The next step, the best step, is to truly begin with the end in mind. Get out of the elephant-display business, and start the fundraising to move Watoto, Bamboo and Chai to a sanctuary with space to roam. Get these large animals out of a pinched life in a confined setting.

Read the full editorial in the Seattle Times

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For Immediate Release: Citizen Alleges Woodland Park Zoo is in Violation of Washington State’s Public Records Act

Seattle, WA – Alyne Fortgang, a Seattle resident, filed a lawsuit today seeking a court order declaring that the Woodland Park Zoological Society be made subject to Washington State’s Public Records Act.

Fortgang is Co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants (a local advocacy group) and as such, has filed numerous public records requests to the Zoo for information regarding the health and welfare of the three elephants held there. In many instances the Zoo withheld information, claimed it had no records pertaining to the request, or provided information that later would prove to be grossly inaccurate.

Fortgang asserts that through the 2002 Operating Agreement between the City of Seattle and the Zoo, the Zoo functions as a “hybrid” public agency when it took over running the Zoo as a public park and therefore must comply with Washington State’s Public Records Act.

Through the Operating Agreement the City is required to give the zoo ongoing benefits. Not only are the Zoo’s operations funded with $10.4 million taxpayer dollars, which increases each year, but the Zoo is provided with the use of City-owned buildings and park land at no cost.

“Woodland Park Zoo can’t have it both ways; if it chooses to take our generous tax dollars, then it must be held accountable on how it spends our money,” said Alyne Fortgang. “I am simply asking that the Zoo be transparent with tax payers, which is why public records laws exist.”

A copy of Fortgang’s lawsuit is available here.

Alyne Fortgang is co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, a NARN Campaign.  Friends raises awareness about the plight of the three elephants living on display at the Woodland Park Zoo.  Friends hopes the Zoo will make the humane decision to retire Bamboo, Chai, and Watoto to a sanctuary in a warmer climate that would offer them vast spaces to roam.

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Scientific American: The Science Is In: Elephants Are Even Smarter Than We Realized

Scientific American has yet another excellent scientific article about the intelligence of elephants and the great injustice we do them by keeping them in zoos. They start with an important question:

We now have solid evidence that elephants are some of the most intelligent, social and empathic animals around—so how can we justify keeping them in captivity?

Every paragraph in the article is full of great points and solid scientific reasoning, so it’s hard to pick just one excerpt.

Refurbishing elephant enclosures so they are roomier and more intellectually stimulating is at once an acknowledgment and dismissal of the research on elephant intelligence and welfare. After all, if the zoos really have the animals’ best interests at heart, they would close their elephant exhibits. In 2005 the Detroit Zoo became the first to give up its elephants solely on ethical grounds. Spending so much time in close quarters—and waiting out the harsh Michigan winters indoors—left their two Asian elephants physically and mentally ill. Wanda and Winky were moved to the Performing Animal Welfare Society’s (PAWS) 930-hectare sanctuary in San Andreas, Calif. A handful of zoos have followed suit, but they are in the minority.

Read the full article in Scientific American

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Scientific American: Orcas and elephants are smart, social and way too large for captivity

Scientific American March 2014

Scientific American March 2014

The Scientific American editorial team comes out on the side of elephants and other large, intelligent animals, condemning their captivity and mistreatment in their March 2014 issue. Here’s an excerpt from the article, Free Willy – And All His Pals (title changed to “Free the Elephants and Orcas in Captivity” in the online version):

Orcas and elephants are not the only intelligent species that deserve our respect and attention, but they face unique hardships in captivity. Even though many zoos and sea parks raise awareness about the plight of animals in the wild, the suffering of captive orcas and elephants in particular overshadows this worthy goal. Some currently confined individuals may not survive if released, but the ones that can be, should be, and captive breeding programs should be terminated.

We would add that a sanctuary is another possibility for animals that cannot be released into the wild.

Read the full article in Scientific American

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Zoos’ dirty little secret

The Bradenton Herald posted a great opinion article about the shocking killing of a healthy giraffe by a Danish zoo.

People around the world were justifiably outraged when a healthy young giraffe was killed because he didn’t fit into a Danish zoo’s breeding plan. A second giraffe execution was in the works before public condemnation put a stop to it. But the only real surprise is how forthcoming these zoos were about it, since disposing of unwanted animals is typically the industry’s dirty little secret. Zoos everywhere, including right here in North America, routinely find ways to unload animals they no longer want or need.

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