Category: Campaign updates

Elephant Justice Project Sues Woodland Park

Elephants Get Brief Reprieve to Have Their Day in Court

Bamboo in transport crate

Bamboo in a transport crate

Elephant Justice Project (EJP) was created for Bamboo and Chai and all the elephants that suffer and die young in impoverished zoo environments.

EJP filed a law suit in King County Superior Court which challenges the Woodland Park Zoological Society’s claim to have ownership over the elephants and its authority to unilaterally move them to the Oklahoma City Zoo. Washington State’s Legislature passed a law in 2000 that allowed the City of Seattle to contract with the Zoo Society to operate and manage the zoo, but the City had no legal authority to give away all of the animals and equipment. Our state Constitution prohibits such gifts. The 2002 Operating Agreement giving Chai and Bamboo to the Zoo Society is illegal and unconstitutional, so the Zoo Society has no authority to decide their fate.

This proposed move to Oklahoma City Zoo goes against the wishes of Mayor Murray, the City Council majority, and Seattle taxpayers, who support retiring Bamboo and Chai to a sanctuary. Unfortunately, the Mayor and City Council appear to be pandering to the powerful few on the Zoo Society’s Board and have declined to use their authority to order the retirement of Bamboo and Chai to a sanctuary.

With the Mayor and City Council deferring to the Zoo Society, EJP had no other choice than to sue. The lawsuit is a reprieve for the elephants, who will now have their day in court!

There is still time for our elected officials to show progressive leadership and honor the wishes and values of their constituents. Please help us persuade them to help Bamboo and Chai get to sanctuary. Please write, call and/or tweet Seattle’s City Council and Mayor.

Mayor Murray: 206-684-4000
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw: 206-684-8801

Write:,,,,,,,,,,,,, (Ignore Mayor Murray’s auto reply.)


Read the Complaint
Read the Operating Agreement between the City and Zoological Society

Due Diligence Report: Options for Chai and Bamboo

Zoocheck, an organization that has assessed the housing and husbandry of captive wildlife for 20 years, delivered a report recently to Seattle’s Mayor and City Council. This exhaustive report, Due Diligence Report: Options for Chai and Bamboo, examines all Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) accredited facilities in the U.S. that hold Asian elephants. Link to report below.

Chai in barn stall


Our review of this report’s findings shows that none of these AZA-accredited zoos exceeds the conditions found at Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ). The report validates what Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants has asserted for years: only a GFAS accredited sanctuary can provide Bamboo and Chai with care for the rest of their lives in an environment that will allow them to heal from the harm caused by their lifelong zoo confinement. Science and the zoo industry’s own statistics shows that elephants in zoos die young and suffer from captivity-induced conditions.



None of these zoos can give Bamboo and Chai more space per elephant than they have now. None can provide open space or pastures for foraging. Many of these zoos are in cold climates that would force them to be locked up in a tiny, barren barn stall longer than they are now. All appear to have hardpan ground and hard barn floors. About a third of these zoos still use the bullhook, an archaic method of managing elephants through pain and fear. This is important to know because if Bamboo or Chai don’t integrate with other elephants in a zoo, or for any reason, they can be moved to a decrepit zoo.

One only needs to look at Watoto’s death to understand what happens to an elephant confined in atiny zoo display. When her keepers came to work on the morning of August 21st, 2014 they found her down. Her advanced arthritis and lameness caused by a lifetime of standing on hard substrates, and a lifetime of lack of movement, made her so debilitated that she couldn’t raise herself. As is the case in most, if not all zoos, Woodland Park Zoo does not have 24/7 monitoring. (The Elephant Sanctuary in TN and PAWS in CA both have 24/7 monitoring.) If Watoto had been found sooner and if the Fire Department with a crane had been called in, she might be alive today.

Check out this video on the issue of sending WPZ’s surviving elephants to a sanctuary vs. another zoo

We hope Woodland Park Zoo management and the Zoo Board will not allow Bamboo and Chai to suffer and die the same fate as Watoto.

We hope they will study this Due Diligence Report and have empathy for these intelligent, far-ranging elephants. This means choosing a sanctuary for Bamboo and Chai’s retirement from beingon display. Let’s not allow Bamboo and Chai to suffer and die without ever having roamed the wooded acres of a sanctuary. Let’s keep the pressure on Seattle’s Mayor and City Council to use their authority to act. Go to our You Can Help page

Read the Due Diligence Report

Councilmember Sawant, a true advocate for WPZ elephants

Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant is truly a hero for the elephants and all animals.  She is thanking YOU!  Please take the time to thank her for her support: and please cc your email to the other city members so they know what you expect of them:  to use their authority to secure the retirement of Bamboo and Chai to PAWS sanctuary:,,,,,,,

Here is Councilmember Sawant’s letter:

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

Congratulations on your victory closing the elephant exhibit at the Woodland Park Zoo, and on your continued struggle to see the elephants sent to sanctuary rather than to another zoo. Your organizing and persistence are truly inspiring.

Given your activism around this issue, I thought you might be interested in my recent interview for an online animal rights publication. I discussed your struggle, animal rights, and the importance of unity in the broader fight for social justice. I am interested in hearing your ideas.


Kshama Sawant

Citizens and press barred from WPZ Board meeting

wpz_meeting_lockoutThanks to everyone who came out in the freezing weather to Woodland Park Zoo’s Dec. 2nd Board meeting—and to those who couldn’t come, for emailing. About 75 advocates came to the “public” board meeting but only 14 were allowed in even though there were some empty seats and the room was filled to the 100 person capacity. Those who spoke gave heartfelt, informative pleas to retire Bamboo and Chai to a sanctuary NOT another zoo.

Media were also banned from entering the “public” meeting. Nothing was mentioned about Bamboo and Chai which is no surprise as nothing was mentioned about Watoto’s passing (into freedom) at the last board meeting.

WRITE Seattle’s Mayor and City Council to use their authority to retire Bamboo and Chai to PAWS sanctuary!

Response to Woodland Park Zoo’s scheme to send Bamboo and Chai to another zoo

Sri at St. Louis Zoo

Sri in her cage at the St. Louis Zoo. This is where Woodland Park Zoo sent her.

Woodland Park Zoo announced it would be closing the elephant exhibit. We commend them for taking this action as the exhibit is inadequate and our climate is unsuitable for elephants. That’s the good news. Unfortunately they want to send Bamboo and Chai, the two surviving elephants, to another zoo. This is not commendable nor is it in the elephants’ best interest.

Bamboo and Chai have lived in a tiny zoo display since they were taken from their mothers as babies. They deserve space and peace in a sanctuary—in a warm climate.

Once Bamboo and Chai leave Seattle, we will have no ability to control what happens to them. They could be moved again, and again. Moving elephants around like furniture is not uncommon in the zoo industry.

Deborah Jensen, President and CEO of Woodland Park Zoo said that Bamboo and Chai would be “relocated together to an Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) facility that shares our commitment to animal health and welfare and conservation through education, and provides viewing access to the animals.”

Deborah Jensen is obviously not aware that PAWS Arc 2000 sanctuary in California engages in conservation and education. PAWS’ commitment to the health and welfare of the elephants in their charge is obviously greater than Woodland Park Zoo’s since PAWS monitors their elephants 24/7. We are not aware of a single zoo that monitors elephants 24/7. Had Watoto, who the Zoo euthanized in August, been monitored she might be alive today.

PAWS has a fundamental difference in philosophy about allowing animals to be viewed. Once an animal lives at PAWS, their life is given back to them and they no longer live on display.

The Mayor and City Council have the authority to approve or disapprove the disposition of the animals in the zoo. We are asking that they use their authority to require that Bamboo and Chai go to a facility accredited by the Global Federation of Sanctuaries like PAWS—anything less goes against science and their constituents’ values.

Bob Barker asks Seattle and WPZ to retire their surviving elephants

Download Bob Barker’s letter to the City of Seattle and Woodland Park Zoo

September 30, 2014

Dear Mayor Murray, Council Members and Dr. Jensen,

I have devoted much of my time to helping animals and have been an advocate for releasing elephants to sanctuaries for many years. In October of last year, the three elephants from the Toronto Zoo were successfully retired to the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). As you may be aware, PAWS provides elephants with space to walk, forage, swim and live their lives to the fullest.

Chai and Bamboo in Seattle have a similar poor quality of life as the elephants had in Toronto. (Sadly, Watoto died before she could have a single day in a sanctuary.)  Like Toronto, Seattle’s elephants only have about an acre yard. Toronto Zoo’s elephant barn was 4 times larger than the barn at Woodland Park Zoo yet Toronto’s City Council and Zoo Board felt it was not large enough.

Seattle’s wet and cold climate forces these highly intelligent animals to be locked up in tiny cages in the barn.  This 16 – 17 hours of daily confinement lasts for over half of the year.  The conditions in which your elephants live are physically and psychologically damaging to these far ranging animals who are genetically wired to move great distances.

No matter how many millions of tax payer dollars Woodland Park Zoo and the City of Seattle spend on improving the elephant exhibit, the Zoo is landlocked and can never provide the amount of space these giants need.  The Zoo cannot change the climate that causes the prolonged lock up.

Retiring the elephants and creating a non-live exhibit would make more sense; freeing up money to save elephants in the wild.

I’m asking Seattle’s Mayor, City Council and Woodland Park Zoo’s management to make the humane decision to retire Bamboo and Chai to PAWS.



Bob Barker
Cc: Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants

Seattle’s Global March for Elephants and Rhinos

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants was one of the sponsors of Seattle’s Global March for Elephants and Rhinos. We joined about 130 cities worldwide to bring awareness to the poaching crisis with may cause the extinction of these species within our lifetime. Please sign the petition and donate to the organizations listed. It is through their worthy and perilous efforts that these animals will be saved.

Check out the article and great photos on Rescue News about the event

The passing of Watoto



Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants is profoundly shocked and saddened by the passing of Watoto. She is now at peace. No more solitary confinement for up to 17 hours in a barren cage. No more lock-up in a tiny section of a yard. No more daily flushing of the socket where she lost her tusk from an incident in the elephant restraining device. No more pain from lameness, arthritis, colic, and painful skin problems.

At 45 years old, Watoto should have been in the prime of her life, still having calves. Sadly, confinement in a zoo causes elephants to die young. Over half of the 76 elephants who have died in AZA-accredited facilities since 2000 never reached the age of 40. According to National Geographic, an African elephant’s natural lifespan is up to 70 years old.

We hope Woodland Park Zoo’s Board and Management will reflect upon Watoto’s early death and make the decision to allow the two surviving elephants to retire to a sanctuary. Anything less diminishes our humanity. R.I.P. Watoto.

Thoughts from David Hancocks, former Director of Woodland Park Zoo, 1976 – 1998

“The City’s elected officials have the power and the moral authority to make decisions….like the City Council of Toronto, they can send the elephants to a home where they will find new freedoms, and deep contentment.”

A general feeling among former Woodland Park Zoo staff members I’ve contacted regarding Watoto’s death can be characterized as a sense not only of sadness at her passing, but also of the unhappy life she had.

Like every other zoo elephant, Watoto should never have been abducted from her mother, and never suffered the pain and indignities that is so common among zoo elephants. We can only be grateful she has been spared the anxiety of having to move to another zoo​​, as WPZ had intended, although it is true there are other zoos who could have offered her better conditions than at WPZ.

It is a matter of extreme unhappiness for me to have to say such a thing about WPZ. At one time the Humane Society of the United States gave WPZ its highest ranking. Today, it is listed as one of the worst for elephant care by Animal Welfare organizations.

It was always deeply frustrating​ when I served as Director of WPZ ​that I was thwarted by City Hall to search for a better home for the elephants. My suggestion in the early 1970s to move them to a place with more space and better climate was met with official and public hostility. I did quietly insure there was no elephant exhibit in the Zoo’s Long Range Plan, adopted by City Council in 1976, in the hope that during the life of the Plan the public’s attitude would shift, and elephants could enjoy a better home. But after eight years I resigned, frustrated at not being able to make progress on this issue.

Since then, Elephant Sanctuaries have appeared in America. They are models of care, expertise, affection and respect. They have introduced greatly improved methods of management and care. Zoos have belatedly adopted some of these progressive changes, though few have appeared at WPZ. Watoto died before she experienced one day of free choice and the company of her own kind in such a Sanctuary.

However, the opportunity for Bamboo and Chai to experience this level of freedom and care still exists. Seattle should honor the life and death of Watoto by continuing and intensifying the fight to send all the WPZ elephants to Sanctuary: to a home where they will be cherished, protected, and, most critically, esteemed as individuals.

The Zoo holds the animals only on behalf​ of the people of Seattle​. The City’s elected officials have the power and the moral authority to make decisions on the lives of the zoo animals that accord to the public ideal. Just like the City Council of Toronto, they can send the elephants to a home where they will find new freedoms, and deep contentment. It is what Seattle owes them, and what we all owe to Watoto, who endured such a poor life, from her first years to her death.

David Hancocks
Melbourne, Australia

Vigil for Watoto

Vigil for Watoto

Vigil for Watoto (photo from KOMO News)

Elephant advocates from all over the region joined in Watoto’s memory to hold a vigil. We held signs at the street entrance to Woodland Park Zoo for about an hour. Then we marched to the gate entrance where we put a big picture of Watoto. One by one each of us laid a flower “at Watoto’s feet”. The silent meditation was begun with a gong. But the silence was punctuated with crying.

See photos and news coverage in the Seattle P-I

See photos and news coverage on KOMO News

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