Deborah Jensen, President and CEO of Woodland Park Zoo, announced her resignation on June 8th. Jensen’s abrupt departure presents a golden opportunity for the zoo board to bring in progressive leadership. In announcing her resignation, the zoo measured Jensen’s 13-year tenure mostly in terms of dollars. We measure Jensen’s reign by her failures and callous disregard for the welfare of the zoo’s elephants: Sri, Hansa, Watoto, Bamboo and Chai. Jensen’s resignation comes just a month after she banished Chai and Bamboo to the Oklahoma City Zoo where their quality of life will be further compromised.
Under Jensen’s “leadership” since 2002:
Two elephants died prematurely from diseases directly related to captivity.
- In 2002 Sri was sent to the St. Louis Zoo for breeding. Sri is one of 10 elephants now living in a cramped 2 acre exhibit in a cold climate. (See video, time code 2:39)
- In 2005, WPZ sent Bamboo to Tacoma’s Pt. Defiance Zoo because she was “aggressive” with Hansa and didn’t have the skills to integrate with the elephants at WPZ. Yet, when Bamboo didn’t integrate with the elephants in Tacoma, rather than retiring her to a sanctuary, she was brought back to WPZ.
- WPZ subjected Chai to 112 highly invasive artificial insemination procedures despite the likelihood that another calf could die from the same virus that killed Hansa. The Oklahoma City Zoo hopes to breed Chai.
- WPZ has fought five lawsuits related to the zoo’s elephant program, two of which are still pending. WPZ continues to fight the lawsuit seeking transparency in their treatment of the animals and accountability to taxpayers. Some of the suits were dismissed on technicalities; WPZ was not exonerated for alleged abuse of the elephants.
- In 2013, in response to increasing criticism over WPZ’s elephant program, the zoo convened a Task Force. WPZ handpicked all Task Force members, stacking it with current and past zoo board members, donors and others with a conflict of interest. It was clear from the start that the Task Force was intended to act in favor of WPZ and therefore lacks credibility.
- In 2014, WPZ was found to be in violation of the animals Welfare Act for failing to provide the elephants with access to shelter during inclement weather.
Watoto’s death proved to be a turning point, raising more questions about WPZ’s ability to provide humane care for the elephants; it also prompted city officials to consider filing charges against WPZ over Watoto’s death.
- Over the years, polls showed growing support for retiring Bamboo and Chai to a sanctuary; the most recent one with 95% of respondents favoring sanctuary.
- In 2014, WPZ announced it would close its elephant exhibit and send Bamboo and Chai to another zoo, rather than to a sanctuary.
In 2015, WPZ announced on that it had chosen the Oklahoma City Zoo for Bamboo and Chai despite this zoo providing less space per elephants, being located in a colder climate and other factors worsening their quality of life. [Oklahoma City Zoo Fact Sheet]
- Jensen sold the move on the premise that Bamboo and Chai would join a “multi-generational herd”—a notion that WPZ’s own previous press release refutes stating that Bamboo was “aggressive” and didn’t have the skills to integrate with other elephants.
- WPZ spread the false statement that there are two elephants at PAWS sanctuary who have active tuberculosis (TB) when in fact there are none. Furthermore, Rex, at the Oklahoma City Zoo tested positive for latent TB which means he could develop an active case at any time—with no space to quarantine him.
- Oklahoma City’s weather is unsuitable for elephants forcing them to endure crushing boredom locked inside a tiny, barren barn stall.
- Jensen falsely claimed an amphitheater with loud rock concerts and frightening pyrotechnic explosions is located “a mile or kilometer” away from the elephant exhibit. Google maps shows that it is only 600 feet from the exhibit.
WPZ claimed the elephants would have access to 3.9 acres at the Oklahoma City Zoo. However, construction plans of the exhibit show the cow/calf yard is only 2.6 acres which would be shared by six elephants.
Under Jensen, the decision to send the elephants to another zoo ignored science, the opinions of objective elephant experts, calls from city officials, powerful media voices, and the ethical values of our community. Jensen’s leadership has kept Woodland Park Zoo entrenched in 19th century thinking that it is humane to confine these sentient beings for public entertainment regardless of their suffering.
Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants will continue fighting for Bamboo, Chai and Sri to reach the expansive wooded countryside that only a sanctuary can provide—and where they can physically and psychologically heal from the traumas of zoo confinement.