Category: Campaign updates

Press Release: Seattle Group Files Complaint with Oklahoma State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners over Death of Elephant


Chai in December 2015 being hoisted up after going down. She lost over 1,000 pounds in 8 months at the Oklahoma City Zoo before dying in a state of emaciation. Oklahoma City Zoo said there were “no red flags”.

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants has filed a complaint with the Oklahoma Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners against the Director of Veterinary Services at the Oklahoma City Zoo, Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino, over the death of Chai. We allege that Dr. D’Agostino was negligent by providing substandard care, disregarding indications of Chai’s failing health, and deceiving the public. We hope that the Board will conduct a thorough and impartial investigation, and take disciplinary action if it’s found that Dr. D’Agostino violated provisions of the Oklahoma Veterinary Practice Act. We have grave concerns for the remaining elephants at the zoo, including Bamboo, who suffers from ongoing, captivity-related medical issues.

You can read the Press Release, Complaint Introduction and entire Complaint here:
Press Release
Complaint Intro
Vet Board Complaint

Chai, 37 years old, dies at Oklahoma City Zoo

Chai in barn stall

Chai, 1979 – 2016

Chai is at peace now—free from suffering at the hands of the zoo industry. At 37, Chai would have been at the prime of her life in the wild, and still bearing calves, but Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ) and now the Oklahoma City Zoo (OKC Zoo) bear the responsibility of another elephant dying prematurely. Chai’s life was filled with trauma, starting with being ripped from her mother at only one-year-old. She was beaten at Dickerson Park Zoo, suffered the heartbreak of losing her daughter, Hansa (6), and endured 112 invasive artificial inseminations. WPZ went against science and the will of the vast majority of Seattle residents by moving Chai (and Bamboo) to the OKC Zoo, another inadequate zoo devoid of any quality of life, rather than retiring her to sanctuary. Zoos must stop incarcerating and breeding elephants into a life sentence of misery.

tombstone for zoo elephants

Elephants who have died at the hands of Woodland Park Zoo


President and CEO of WPZ Resigns

Artificial Insemination Chai, Photo credit: Seattle Times

Artificial Insemination Chai, Photo credit: Seattle Times

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:

  • Sri at St. Louis Zoo

    Sri at the St. Louis Zoo where Woodland Park Zoo sent her.

    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 kept in solitary confinement

    Watoto, 1969 – 2014

    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.
  • Oklahoma City Zoo elephant barn

    Oklahoma City Zoo elephant barn

    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.

sanctuary land

Tract of land on which Bamboo and Chai would live.

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.



Chai and Bamboo denied sanctuary; sent to another small zoo yard

sanctuary land

PAWS: Actual tract of land dedicated for Bamboo and Chai

We need to accept that the worst has happened: Bamboo and Chai were denied humane sanctuary at PAWS and are in another tiny zoo display at the Oklahoma City Zoo. We will be monitoring their lives and hope that they don’t suffer too much.

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants (Friends) can claim success in that another elephant exhibit in this country is closed—Seattle’s. More importantly, we are extremely proud of our role in raising awareness in our community and beyond. Our widely reported efforts have helped people understand the inherent cruelty of keeping these intelligent, far ranging and sentient animals in zoo confinement. It is inevitable that this awareness and empathy will extend to all animals who are captured or bred to live in tiny, artificial zoo displays for our entertainment. People are getting it!

OK City Zoo elephant yard

Oklahoma City Zoo: Artificial, small, boring yard with trees outside of electrified fencing

Friends will remain engaged in Bamboo and Chai’s quality of life. We will give Bamboo and Chai’s transition some months and then we’ll visit the Oklahoma City Zoo to see if they have integrated with the other elephants—or if they are still separated in a half acre. If there are serious concerns, we will work with the newly elected City Council (in January) to retire Bamboo and Chai to a sanctuary.

Friends’ valuable work could not have happened without you: our dedicated supporters. We are profoundly thankful to so many people who faithfully wrote emails, called, and attended court hearings, demonstrations and city council meetings. So many people volunteered in so many ways: managing our social media, filming, designing, doing research and donating banners, signs and our unmistakable orange t-shirts! A special thanks goes to the renowned elephant experts who selflessly gave of themselves. A huge thanks to those who donated to the legal battles on behalf of Bamboo and Chai. We are grateful for the support from PETA, HSUS and IDA. Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants could not have done this without all of you and we extend an elephant-sized THANK YOU!

Elephant-Sized News: With Bamboo and Chai in San Diego We Have Another Chance to SAVE them!

GiveBig 2015Elephant Justice Project (EJP), an ally of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, has succeeded in getting a partial ruling in the federal law suit against Woodland Park Zoo. The Honorable Judge Coughenour stated that EJP will likely win on the merits of its case!  Now EJP is requesting an injunction to keep Bamboo and Chai in California so their next move will be to PAWS sanctuary!  Then we believe that the judge is poised to establish an important precedent!

Strong litigation opportunities like this don’t come often!

We need your help with funding this ground breaking effort.  EJP has a highly respected judge who is sympathetic and will hopefully reach the merits of this case.

Please donate Tuesday, May 5th during Seattle Foundation’s one-day GiveBIG. Your donation will go farther because it is matched!

Please donate HERE to Northwest Animal Rights Network/Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants.

This may be the best chance we’ll ever have—not only for Chai & Bamboo—but to help elephants nationwide based on the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

  • Judge Coughenour indicated that if the sanctuary was ready to receive Seattle’s elephants, he might well have ordered that they be retired to a sanctuary. Now we have a declaration stating that PAWS will commit to providing lifetime sanctuary for Bamboo and Chai in a wooded habitat in an elephant-friendly climate.
  • The court also expressed deep concerns for the elephants’ well-being over the deaths of other elephants at the hands of zoos, and over zoo industry experts who defend inhumane treatment of elephants. Now we have the reckless move of Bamboo and Chai out of Seattle despite hazardous weather forecasts. This endangered their lives and caused them to be rerouted to San Diego.
  • Most legal cases trying to enforce the ESA fail because the plaintiff lacks standing to bring the case. Here, EJP’s standing is so strong it has gone unchallenged. With clear standing, our case might be one of the very first that can expose the private dealings of zoos and amusement parks with endangered species.

EJP’s lawyers are working hard putting together the expert testimony that the judge needs to do the right thing.

We need your help to fund this critical legal battle for sanctuary!

Donate here on May 5th!

USDA complaint filed: Reckless transfer endangered elephants’ lives

Woodland Park Zoo hastily transported Bamboo and Chai on April 15th out of Seattle headed to the Oklahoma City Zoo.  This is the same day an injunction was denied and the same day when a proposed ordinance was made public. NOAA’s forecasts for April 15th reported: heavy snow, fog, strong winds and tornadoes for the states along the transport route.

This reckless transport endangered the elephants’ lives and caused them to be in a windowless steel box/crate for even more time—detouring an additional 740 miles.  Now they are holed up in what resembles a prison holding cell.  (See video below)

Friends has called for an investigation by the USDA.  A reported escape of a lion is the subject of another USDA complaint. Links to USDA complaints:
YouTube Preview Image

Jane Goodall says Bamboo and Chai “deserve” PAWS Sanctuary

sanctuary land

Tract of land on which Bamboo and Chai would live.

Dr. Jane Goodall, the moral authority on animals in human care, supports the peaceful retirement of Bamboo and Chai to PAWS Sanctuary. It past due for Seattle’s Mayor and City Council join Kshama Sawant and Mike O’Brien in using their authority to honor the moral values of our city. The officials we elected to represent us need to pass an ordinance directing Woodland Park Zoo to retire Bamboo and Chai to PAWS.

April 22, 2015

Via email:

I am writing on behalf of two special elephants, Bamboo and Chai.

Elephants are among the most intelligent of mammals. They have a complex social structure and form bonds that last for life. They need space, freedom to travel where they wish, rivers and water holes in which to bathe.

I have spent hours watching them in the wild and I feel great sadness when I see them in zoos. Many have suffered for years, both physically and psychologically, in inappropriate captive conditions.

I understand that Bamboo and Chai have the opportunity to retire to PAWS sanctuary in California. This provides optimal conditions for elephants rescued from zoos and circuses. Bamboo and Chai deserve live out their lives in this wonderful place where they can roam over a relatively large area. I urge those responsible to send them there as soon as possible.

Jane Goodall PhD, DBE and UN Messenger of Peace

Investigation of Zoo’s Botched Transport Urged

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants and Zoocheck held a joint press conference on April 23rd, in the hopes of convincing Seattle’s Mayor Murray and City Council Members to conduct an independent investigation into the failed transport of Chai and Bamboo. We are also asking that Bamboo and Chai not be moved out of San Diego until the investigation is completed and a safe plan, made public, is put in place to protect Bamboo and Chai.

Photo: KOMO 4 News

Photo: KOMO 4 News

Experts, Julie Woodyer with Zoocheck and Margaret Whittaker, planned and successfully executed the transport of three elephants, 3000 miles, from Toronto Zoo in Canada to the PAWS sanctuary in California. They are happy to assist in the investigation and to help identify other experts qualified to assist going forward.

On April 15th Woodland Park Zoo loaded Chai and Bamboo into steel crates and trucked them for what was supposed to be a 40 hour journey to Oklahoma City Zoo. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s forecast on April 15th reported “Heavy snow on its way to the Central Rockies…the weather system will…bring considerable moisture…heavy snow across portions of Wyoming, Colorado and Utah” Those were the states of WPZ’s route. Stopped in Salt Lake City, and with a report that Bamboo had colic, the transport “detoured” to San Diego. With an ailing elephant, the Zoo decided to go another 740 miles to San Diego (Coming back to Seattle was only 90 miles more).

The elephants were whisked out of Seattle the same day an injunction was denied and an ordinance was made public that could send the elephants to a sanctuary. Friends believes this is no coincidence and that Woodland Park Zoo put their own self-interest before the health and safety of Bamboo and Chai.

A Profoundly Sad Day for Elephants and Humans

Bamboo suffering from foot problems

Bamboo with foot infection

It is with profound sadness that I report that Chai and Bamboo were loaded onto a truck around 6 PM last night to begin their grueling trip to another impoverished existence in the Oklahoma City Zoo. This marks the end of many tragic chapters in their lives, and begins another.

As many of you know, we fought a tireless nine-year battle to persuade Woodland Park Zoo to retire Bamboo, Chai, Watoto and Sri to a sanctuary and permanently end the exhibition of elephants.

Chai in barn stall


After we lost Watoto to conditions directly caused by her captivity, Woodland Park Zoo announced they would join other progressive zoos in closing their elephant exhibit—we were hopeful. Unfortunately, Woodland Park Zoo remained intransigent throughout, incapable of considering any point of view different from zoo-industry approved opinion; the leadership entrenched in the industry’s selfish self-interest.

Our efforts were based on best science, independent expert opinion, and the community’s values. Our elephants’ cause inspired broad support from the enlightened Seattle region, people around the world and powerful media voices, especially The Seattle Times. It was the Seattle Times’ scathing front page investigation that cracked the door open to help people understand the suffering these intelligent, far-ranging animals endure when displayed in a tiny, boring, unchanging space—for life.

Watoto kept in solitary confinement

Watoto, RIP

Sadly, our elected officials failed to champion the conscience of their constituents or make our elephants’ well-being a concern of theirs.

The heartbreaking saga of Chai and Bamboo’s pathetic lives in the American Zoo World continues. And so today, we are diminished as human beings.

Nancy Pennington and Alyne Fortgang
Co-founders, Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants

FACT SHEET: Oklahoma City Zoo worse than Woodland Park Zoo

Oklahoma City Zoo elephant barn

Oklahoma City Zoo elephant barn

A new fact sheet on the Oklahoma City Zoo clearly shows that Bamboo and Chai’s quality of life will be worse than that at Woodland Park Zoo. Please write, call, post and tweet.

  • The climate in Oklahoma City is colder forcing more barn lockup
  • Each elephant will have less space
  • The presence of infectious disease
  • The close proximity to an amphitheater with loud rock concerts and pyrotechnics picture attached
  • Elephants are made to perform unnatural circus tricks. picture attached, caption: Asha doing tricks to loud music
Asha doing tricks to loud music

Asha doing tricks to loud music

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