FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 3, 2014 (Seattle, WA) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has determined that Woodland Park Zoo is in violation of an Animal Welfare Act (AWA) provision regulating the housing of elephants outdoors.
According to a September 9, 2014 inspection report, the USDA found evidence that the Zoo violated the AWA by failing to ensure that elephants have “access to shelter during inclement weather to afford them protection and to prevent their discomfort.” With this violation, the Zoo has violated a provision of the Operating Agreement with the City of Seattle, which requires that the Zoo “shall care for all Zoo Animals in accordance with all federal, state and local laws and regulations.”
The inspection report notes that Zoo staff acknowledged that elephants are routinely locked outside without access to shelter during rain. The report also calls attention to the inadequate and dysfunctional configuration of the Zoo’s elephant exhibit, stating that “only one elephant at a time may be offered access to both the barn and the outdoor enclosure.” As a result, one elephant is locked in a cage in the barn in solitary confinement and one elephant is locked outside—both up to 17 hours a day.
According to the USDA report, Zoo staff stated that they intend to build a rain shelter in a year—two years after the Zoo’s own self-appointed Task Force recommended minimal improvements to the Zoo’s elephant exhibit, which included the addition of rain/wind shelters to protect the elephants from our unsuitable climate.
It is egregious and inconceivable that the Zoo has failed to take even the most minimal precaution to protect elephants from the obvious challenge of captivity in Seattle’s climate: rain. This violation demonstrates that the Zoo is ill-equipped and lacks commitment to housing elephants in a manner that meets the most basic standards of welfare.
“Given the increased public scrutiny on the Zoo’s elephant program and the recent death of Watoto, the Zoo’s failure to prevent the discomfort of its elephants without USDA intervention is shocking,” said Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants. “Now that Woodland Park Zoo has violated the AWA and breached the terms of its contract with the City, the City Council must exercise its authority to ensure that Bamboo and Chai are retired to a sanctuary immediately.”