Category: Letters to the editor

Zoo elephants: By penning them up, zoo is acting against nature

A great letter to the editor in the Seattle Times from Katy Flynn of Kent.

Bravo to Judy Nicastro for her brilliant opinion piece advocating sanctuary for the remaining Woodland Park Zoo elephants, Chai and Bamboo [“Political leadership for the elephants,” Opinion, Sept. 4].

To hear the news Watoto had been euthanized was as shocking as it was heartbreaking. Elephants are sentient beings who deserve more space than the Woodland Park Zoo offers.

As Watoto has shown us, keeping huge land mammals in woefully small enclosures is perilous and obviously against their nature. This is done in the interest of those who view elephants as living conservation symbols at best, and as entertainers at worst.

In reporting Watoto’s death, Michael J. Berens pointed out “Watoto had no known medical problems.”

The drumbeat gets ever louder. Are Seattle’s leaders listening?

Katy Flynn, Kent

Letters: Zoo’s plan won’t cut it for elephants; not an extreme view

Two excellent letters to the editor in the Seattle Times counter the Zoo’s recent opinion piece, which labeled a majority of the Seattle public as “extremists” for their compassionate viewpoint on the treatment of elephants.

An excerpt from the first, from FOWPZE founder Alyne Fortgang:

The guest column from two Woodland Park Zoo board members, “Woodland Park Zoo takes good care of its elephants,” [Opinion, May 13] shows how out of touch the Zoo is with science and Seattleites’ values. The zoo’s labeling of those calling for the end of confining elephants in zoos as “extremists” is laughable.

Are the Scientific American, The Seattle Times and 62 percent of Seattleites extremists?

The Scientific American stated in an editorial: “Confined elephants often spend their time standing around in cramped quarters…. These tortuous conditions inflict serious physical and psychological damage on such smart and sensitive animals.”

The Seattle Times has issued five editorials calling for the retirement of the elephants to sanctuary.

The second letter, from Beverly Marcus, a fellow Seattle “extremist”:

One can civilly differ on whether to keep or end the elephant program at the Woodland Park Zoo. But for the highest ranking members of the zoo’s Board of Directors to label those advocating its end as “extremists” is outrageous and, frankly, a desperate attempt to stifle growing opposition to the inhumane aspects of elephant captivity.

Truth be told, I had already decided not to go to the zoo again because of my strong opposition to its elephant program. And now given that zoo management has declared me an extremist, it is clear that I am not welcome.

Read the full letters and other online comments here

Letter: Panel is trivializing damage

The Seattle Times printed this letter from a local resident, about the recent Task Force report. Posted here in it’s entirety.

The report recently issued by the Woodland Park Zoo elephant task force’s “expert panel” was predictably disappointing. [“Experts suggest changes for zoo’s elephants,” NW Thursday, Aug. 29.]

By opting to use innocuous terms such as “reduced joint mobility” and “occasional foot cracks,” instead of the more accurate “captivity-related arthritis” and “chronic foot infections” (both causes of premature death in zoo elephants), the panel has obviously chosen to trivialize and whitewash the shocking physical deterioration of the zoo’s three surviving elephants.

The Seattle City Council made a terrible mistake by allowing the zoo to control this task force. The result is a rubber-stamp committee of mostly current and former zoo board members and industry insiders, blindly loyal to the zoo and utterly disinterested in examining the profound damage that decades of inhumane confinement have had on the zoo’s elephants.

The Seattle City Council should remedy its mistake by forming a truly independent and objective task force.

Nancy Farnam, Edmonds

Letter: Task Force needs objective experts outside zoo industry or report will have no credibility

Dear Woodland Park Zoological Board Member,

We commend the Woodland Park Zoological Board for having the good judgment and estimable intentions in forming the Elephant Task Force.  We assume you want this investigation to be impartial and to keep the elephants’ quality of life paramount.

However, that’s not what the Board, the public or City Council are getting.

There are a few independent voices on the Task Force but most members are personally, financially or professionally invested in the Zoo—a clear conflict of interest. Advising the Task Force on the elephants’ health and the zoo’s breeding practices is a Health Panel. The importance of this Health Panel cannot be overstated, since the Task Force will rely heavily on its findings in the report it makes to the Board.

The Health Panel was handpicked by Dr. Bryan Slinker who is a Task Force and Zoo Board member, and who has made his opinion public in a Seattle Times op-ed that the elephants should stay at the zoo and that they do not have foot problems, despite the fact that the zoo’s own medical records document chronic foot problems. Five of the six Health Panelists are zoo industry insiders.  Janine Brown is the architect of the AZA’s breeding program.

At the June 26th Task Force meeting, Dr. Slinker attempted to explain away the 112 highly invasive artificial insemination procedures on Chai (documented by The Seattle Times) by saying it was really “only” 20 times because that’s how many times she cycled.  (1:34:22 at the June 26th meeting.)  Dr. Slinker’s role in the Task Force is a flagrant conflict of interest.

It is clear the Task Force’s report will be met by the public and media with deserved skepticism.We are asking you to remedy this.

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants has recommended that Dr. Phil Ensley be invited to examine the elephants and their medical records.  Dr. Ensley has 29 years of experience as an elephant veterinarian at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Wildlife Park.  Without an independent expert contributing to the Task Force’s investigations, their report will have little credibility.

On June 4th, 2013, we provided the Task Force with thirteen elephant experts—some world renowned— such as Dr. Joyce Poole and Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick who have offered to present an alternative perspective from the zoo industry speakers who have dominated the conversation.  Not one has been invited.

We are looking to you to advise the Task Force about the consequence of not including experts independent of the zoo industry.


Alyne Fortgang
Co-founder, Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants

Cc: City Council
Seattle Times
Media at large
Task Force co-chairs,

Ballard Tribune article about the WPZ elephants

The Ballard Tribune had a nice write-up about the battle to get the WPZ elephants out of their cramped zoo enclosure, and into the 2700-acre Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee:

In close quarters: local activists continue to demand more space for the Woodland Park Zoo elephants

Also check out the response to this article from The Elephant Sanctuary’s CEO

Here is an excerpt from the article:

One of the main complaints against WPZ is that the three elephants endure solitary confinement and a lack of social experience.

With roughly one acre of yard space outside, these elephants have four pens to roam in and their heated indoor barn is divided into four separate holding areas, according to the zoo’s website.

Iain Douglas-Hamilton once wrote in a National Geographic article that elephants travel for three things: sex, sustenance and safety.

“We have all of that here – the elephant’s travel is resource-based and we are always looking for ways to enhance that,” said WPZ’s elephant curator, Bruce Upchurch. “What we have now is enough. We have quality space, it’s just the amount that’s the issue.”

Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of the Friends of the Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, doesn’t agree.

“After years of having people take pictures and staring at them, these elephants have become living shells of a being,” she said. “They look like zombies, exude little emotion, and hardly even act alive compared to wild elephants that are in movement 20 hours a day.”

Letters: WPZ sued over elephant care

Regarding the recent lawsuit against the City of Seattle for its taxpayer-funded support of elephant cruelty at the zoo, local DVM responded in a letter to the editor in the Seattle Times:

I have two main concerns with the Woodland Park Zoo elephants [“Zoo sued over care of elephants,” NWWednesday, June 30]. The first lies in the way Chai is continuously inseminated despite the knowledge she will once again pass deadly herpes to any of her future offspring.

Any calf born at Woodland Park Zoo may likely die from Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV) before the age of 10. Of the young Asian elephants who get sick with herpes, 85 percent die.

My second concern lies in the knowledge that elephants need room to walk. Only in nice weather can the elephants be out on one acre, an enclosure that does not allow for proper lymphatic circulation. The Tennessee sanctuary would give these captive zoo elephants more than 2,000 acres and a natural water source.

The notion that we must keep elephants chained behind bars is antiquated in the time of webcam, when a visit with her at the sanctuary is only as far as the nearest computer screen.

Read all that day’s letters to the editor here.

Letter: Bravo for speaking out

This supportive letter appeared in The Seattle Times in response to our recent press release with Lily Tomlin.

I am very thankful to Lily Tomlin for advocating for our Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ) elephants to improve their present, unhealthy lives [“Cause for star: elephants,” NW Tuesday, April 28].

WPZ claims it is giving its three elephants, Watoto, Bamboo and Chai, the best of care and I am sure that they try, but it is not enough. The zoo cannot give them what they don’t have and what these pachyderms need most, which is lots of space. The way they live now is as if we were forced to live in a bathtub for the rest of our lives.

Keeping them here when they could go for free to the 2,700-acre Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is selfishly wrong. It is time to do the right thing and let them go!

It is great when celebrities lend their names to causes. It attracts more attention from the media and, consequently, the public. Therefore, bravo again to Tomlin for speaking out for those who can’t: the elephants at WPZ.

— Claudine Erlandson, Shoreline

Letters: RE: “New Zoo Review”

Alyne Fortgang of Seattle, wrote a great response to an article in Seattle Weekly by Damon Agnos, called “New Zoo Review”:

Keeping the planet’s largest land mammal in Woodland Park Zoo’s tiny barn room up to 17 hours a day and in a section of a one-acre yard is blatantly inhumane. Whether looking for food or energized by food, elephants are born with bodies that need to walk great distances for their mental and physical health. Experts have presented decades of research that bears this out.

Since 2000, half of the 63 elephants that have died in AZA-accredited zoos never reached the age of 40. The natural lifespan of elephants is 60–70 years. It is the zoo environment that is killing them prematurely, just as poachers and loss of habitat are doing in the wild—it is the same crime with the same result.

The zoo claims displaying elephants makes people care about them, and then they will donate to conserve them. If this were true, Asian elephants wouldn’t be as endangered today, since people have been seeing them in zoos for more than 200 years. As zoos have adopted their “conservation” ethic to justify incarcerating elephants, numbers have continued to decline.

Conservation of elephants needs to take place in the wild—the ONLY place they should be—not in a “cage” with Olmsted landscaping, to which they have no access.

View this and other letters on

Letters of compassion for WPZ’s elephants

Nancy Farnam’s recent guest commentary in the HeraldNet, about the elephants at Woodland Park Zoo, inspired two supportive letters in response:

Danielle Noel from Vancouver writes about how her family has canceled their annual trips to WPZ after the elephant exhibit just became too depressing for them.

Our family has driven down to the Woodland Park Zoo every year for many years. The most depressing exhibit by far is the elephant exhibit. I cannot, for the life of me, understand how the world’s largest land mammal has ended up stuck in a small, 1-acre yard and even at that, the yard is broken up into smaller yards because two of the elephants can’t get along.

Glenda T. Berg from Des Moines writes that even her 6-year-old daughter was able to recognize the elephants’ “tortured swaying and neurotic responses to stress” and will not return to the zoo again.

I, and other parents, have not set foot in the zoo since my daughter and I witnessed their tortured swaying and neurotic responses to stress. (My daughter noticed it at age 6, and hasn’t forgotten it since). I have heard similar sentiments from other concerned former zoo-goers over the years, and still nothing is done to change the horrific conditions these magnificent animals have to endure.

If you see an article about WPZ or zoo elephants, help keep the public dialog going by writing a letter to the editor!

Letter about captive elephant lifespans

Nancy Farnam from Edmunds writes a compelling letter to the editor in response to the Seattle P-I article about captive elephants’ lifespans being shorter than those of wild elephants.

A study published last week confirms what animal advocates have known for years. Elephants live a lot longer in the wild than they do in zoos (“Elephants live longer in the wild, study finds,” Dec. 11).

One amazing finding was that Asian elephants born in zoos have much shorter lifespans. In fact, 76 percent of those born in recent years have died before age ten, 57 percent from herpesviruses. Woodland Park Zoo’s 6-year old elephant, Hansa, became one of these tragic statistics last year. Failure of zoos to practice infection control has allowed the deadly viruses to spread through the captive populations and are decimating young Asian elephants, the most susceptible to the viruses.

Adult zoo elephants die prematurely from ailments caused by inadequate space and being forced to stand on hard surfaces for years. Woodland Park Zoo’s records reveal that its surviving elephants all suffer from arthritis and chronic foot infections.

Woodland Park Zoo should join the growing list of zoos that have realized they can’t properly care for elephants. Bamboo, Watoto, Chai and Sri should be retired to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee where they will finally have the space and freedom they need to thrive and the chance to live a normal lifespan.

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