Posts tagged Woodland Park Zoo

AMONG THE ANIMALS: Seattle politics on animal welfare

Bamboo in transport crate at WPZ (Photo by Jeanne Barrett)

Bamboo in transport crate at WPZ (Photo by Jeanne Barrett)

by Christie Lagally

Originally published in City Living Seattle and the Queen Anne & Magnolia News

May 2015

(c) Pacific Publishing Company

The Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ) has spent a century justifying its existence as an educational institution for our community, but the evidence of that purpose has never been so barren.

With the ill-conceived decision to move elephants Chai and Bamboo to another zoo, WPZ leaders damaged an already-crumbling societal contract with Seattleites to serve the public interest with our $7 million per year of taxpayer funds and free use of the city-owned zoo facilities.

The history of advocacy against the confinement of elephants at WPZ has been punctuated by the saddest milestones: from baby elephant Hansa’s death from a disease that WPZ knew she could contract (according to the minutes of a May 1998 meeting of the zoo’s Elephant Management Committee), to the December 2012 Seattle Times’ investigation of the abusive lives of zoo elephants. The collapse of elephant Watoto at WPZ from ailments associated with captivity (Crosscut, Oct. 2, 2014) and a subsequent USDA inspection that declared the inadequacy of the elephant exhibit in 2014 (Seattle P-I, Nov. 3, 2104) reinforced the problem.

Then, when WPZ refused to allow the public and media to attend board meetings last December, it only called into question the wisdom of a public-private partnership. By 2015, WPZ’s unrelenting decision to send Chai and Bamboo to another zoo, instead of a sanctuary, was the status quo.

WPZ disregarded the call for sanctuary from the majority of Seattle voters and City Councilmembers; the mayor; many City Council candidates; powerful media voices, including the Seattle Times editorial board; and renowned international elephant experts, including former WPZ director David Hancocks.

“I don’t think that the zoo recognizes the damage they have done,” Hancocks said, regarding the loss of public trust that WPZ has caused with its decisions. “This will color people’s view of the zoo.

“In my view, zoos are outmoded and have not changed since the 1900s,” Hancocks explained, adding we have an opportunity to make significant changes to create a zoo that reflects our values. For a century, conventional zoos have claimed to teach respect for animals and the natural world, yet our treatment of animals in zoos is inadequate at best and abysmal at worst.

“The need for institutions, like zoos, is more desperate than ever,” Hancocks said. He added that we need an institution that intellectually stimulates us with hard questions about ecology, geology and forestry without the confinement of animals.

 

Political willpower

There appears to be an institutionalized belief that our zoo takes animal welfare seriously when recent decisions are the antithesis. Even our mayor and City Councilmembers (except Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Mike O’Brien, who fought for sanctuary) would not challenge WPZ leaders. Now that WPZ has spent decades denying the harm of captivity, we have no assurance that similarly poor decisions will not be made again, perhaps with another large mammal where the elephants once lived.

However, Seattleites can change the future of animal welfare policy through our elections. This year, the Seattle Parks District — which taxes Seattle residents to fund our parks, zoo and aquarium — was established, and the City Council now oversees how funds are used. With the new City Council district elections in November, we have an opportunity to reform how our City Council oversees the zoo.

Seattle resident Beverly Marcus is finding out where council candidates stand on the issues. She distributed a candidate survey in March from the Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, and with 38 percent of candidates responding, all favored sanctuary for the elephants and most supported a council resolution for sanctuary.

Tony Provine, City Council candidate for Seattle’s 4th District, said that we should hold the zoo accountable and usher in better transparency: “[WPZ] didn’t include the taxpayers in this decision” to transferring the elephants. He added that we deserve to have oversight and some say in how our funds and city property are used by the zoo.

However, elections for social change cost money, and people who will work for the welfare of people and animals need support. Hence, local activist Sandy Smith founded the Humane Voters of Washington, a political action committee aimed at supporting candidates and initiatives that implement humane animal welfare policies.

“You can rescue animals 24/7, but unless laws are changed, you will have to rescue again the next week,” Smith said, regarding the need for a political action committee that works on behalf of animal issues. Smith explained that people can give just a few dollars a month, and that money is amplified to help animals through the election of candidates who will implement sound animal welfare policies such as those that govern WPZ.

I can imagine a future when our local zoo is the source of education about the ethical treatment of all animals, instead of the antique model of animal confinement it is today. As Provine and Hancocks envision, a progressive zoo, overseen by a thoughtful City Council, could be the model of civic transparency that educates our community about the practical ways to foster an ecologically sound, humane connection to our environment and animals.

CHRISTIE LAGALLY is a writer and editor of Living Humane (livinghumane.com), a news site on humane-conscious lifestyles. To comment on this column, write to CityLivingEditor@nwlink.com.

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AMONG THE ANIMALS: WPZ Elephant Task Force considers sanctuaries

Chai the elephant, in her section of the barn stall at the Woodland Park Zoo. Photo courtesy of the Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants

Chai the elephant, in her section of the barn stall at the Woodland Park Zoo. Photo courtesy of the Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants

By Christie Lagally

(c) Pacific Publishing Company

Published June 25, 2013 in City Living Seattle

Many Seattleites may remember the two-part feature article last December by Seattle Times reporter Michael Berens in which he investigated a failed breeding program and intolerable conditions for elephants (Watoto, Bamboo and Chai) at the Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ) and other zoos. In subsequent coverage, The Seattle Times editorial board wrote, “Chai was subsequently the victim — not too strong a word — of 112 attempts to artificially inseminate her” and “Woodland Park Zoo should get out of the elephant-display business. Send Watoto, Bamboo and Chai to one of the handful of sanctuaries that exist. Let them live out their lives with room to move at will across truly open spaces.”

Councilwomen Sally Bagshaw address the Elephant Task Force on May 29th, 2013 at the Seattle Central Library

Councilwomen Sally Bagshaw address the Elephant Task Force on May 29th, 2013 at the Seattle Central Library

According to Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, this article prompted an enormous number of e-mails to her office from folks concerned about the elephants and calls to send them to a sanctuary. Since then, the Zoo board announced a task force to look at the issue. Its second meeting, held this May, covered the topic of sanctuaries, including issues of facility space and breeding policy.

Elephant education

The task force began by hearing from Kristin Vehrs of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the accrediting body for zoos. Vehrs emphasized the AZA requires zoos to have three or more elephants to meet the animals’ social needs. I later learned that at least 20 zoos, including Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma, have only two or even one lonely elephant, yet maintain their AZA accreditation.

Closer to the topic of sanctuaries, Jackie Bennett of the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries introduced its organization as the accrediting body for sanctuaries. The Global Federation works with animal sanctuaries worldwide. Such elephant sanctuaries in the United States are located in warmer, drier climates and have wide-open spaces measured in the hundreds to thousands of acres, in contrast to the divided one acre available to Watoto, Bamboo and Chai.

In a sanctuary, elephants are free-roaming and live in social groups of their choosing. Yet, in Seattle, Bamboo and Watoto are incompatible and are managed so one of them is always kept solitary, which is considered cruel for a female elephant. The WPZ elephants are kept in barn stalls 16 to 17 hours a day for more than half of the year due to our climate.

The task force later heard from representatives of two elephant facilities — the National Elephant Center (NEC) and Riddle Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary (REWS) — about their facilities in Florida and Arkansas, respectively. Nicole Meyer of In Defense of Animals (IDA) clarified for the task force that “true sanctuaries” are those that do not participate in breeding elephants so as not to place more animals into captivity. The Global Federation only accredits sanctuaries that do not breed animals for captivity.

Both NEC and REWS either support zoo-breeding programs or actively pursue breeding of elephants in captivity. In contrast, the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee do not condone captive breeding and allow the animals to live freely in the sanctuary without being managed with bull hooks, according to Meyer.

PAWS representatives were invited to speak but declined in a letter explaining its elephant sanctuary program. The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee was not asked to present to the task force, according to communications manager Angela Spivey, who confirmed that she was prepared to speak that evening but was not included on the agenda.

This was unfortunate because, in considering the future of Watoto, Bamboo and Chai, it is vital to present the perspective of a sanctuary that does not breed elephants. It is important to ensure that Chai is never subjected to a breeding program again and that she lives in a place where no other elephants experience her past trauma.

Changing mindsets

The question of whether the elephants should be relocated to a sanctuary is quite simply, yes.

Animals evoke deep emotions in us, and many people may feel it would be a loss if Watoto, Bamboo and Chai went to live in a sanctuary. But Berens’ article provided us with knowledge of animal suffering that our community cannot ignore.

I am hopeful that this task force will help us, as a community, to change the mindset that only health exams by zoo veterinarians or compliance with AZA standards can fully inform us about the well-being of elephants.

Many North American zoos are closing their elephant exhibits based on lack of space and research showing that elephants are deeply emotional, self-aware and social beings.

Members of the task force have a wonderful opportunity to help transform the WPZ programs that confine elephants into humane education programs based on the knowledge we have gained that ultimately helped us to see that elephants need to be wild and free.

For more information on the Woodland Park Zoo Elephant Task Force, visit elephanttaskforce.org. For local advocacy information, visit Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants at freewpzelephants.com.

CHRISTIE LAGALLY writes a blog called “Sniffing Out Home: A Search for Animal Welfare Solutions” at http://www.sniffingouthome.org and is host of Living Humane on KKNW 1150 AM (livinghumane.com).

Also see David Hancock’s article.

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Seattle teach-in on elephant advocacy is this week!

Chai in stall at Woodland Park Zoo

Chai in stall at Woodland Park Zoo

An Elephant Teach In will be offered at Phinney Neighborhood Center on Thursday June 13 from 6-7pm.

This event is free and all are welcome.

Topics include:  comparison between behaviors of wild elephants and the elephants at Woodland Park Zoo; action steps for concerned citizens; resources for further information on elephants in captivity.  The intention is to provide the public with information, resources and advocacy direction.

This is being offered by concerned citizens in the hope of inspiring interest and action on behalf of Chai, Bamboo and Watoto.  For more information, visit the Elephant Teach In site on Facebook

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