City pushes zoo on sanctuary for elephants
at 4:15pm by Amy Augustine
City officials are putting pressure on Woodland Park Zoo officials to send two Asian elephants to a sanctuary instead of sending them to another zoo, according to documents obtained by KUOW.
In November, the zoo announced it would close its elephant exhibit shortly after Watoto, a 45-year-old African elephant, died after failing to stand up. A necropsy found that the animal had joint disease, though it is unclear whether she fell or lay down. Zoo officials plan to announce where the remaining elephants, Chai and Bamboo, will be placed early next month.
The documents show the city, including several city council members and Mayor Ed Murray, have pushed zoo officials to pursue the sanctuary option, going as far as involving the city attorney’s office. Separately, the city attorney’s office considered filing civil or criminal charges against the zoo in the wake of Watoto’s death, the documents reveal.
The zoo is located on city land and receives about a third of its funding from the city and county. It is managed independently though a 20-year agreement. Attorneys for the city found that while the city cannot legally pressure the zoo by withholding funds, it could condition any future funds on what happens with the elephants.
The city has asked the zoo to report back before making a final decision on where to send the elephants.
Zoo officials responded to KUOW’s story with a statement: “We very much appreciate all of the interest and concern by the Mayor and members of the City Council about our evaluation process and the strict criteria we are following to make this important relocation decision. . . . As we move closer to the relocation decision, we are doing our best to keep the City, our zoo family, members and the public informed of what it takes to ensure the best interests of Chai and Bamboo are our top priority.”