Category: Press releases

Press Release: No on Prop 1 for Additional Tax Funding for Woodland Park Zoo


King County - Vote!Seattle, WA (July 10, 2017) – Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants (Friends) is calling for King County voters to reject Proposition 1, a ballot measure to be decided in the August 1 primary election.

This measure would raise over one-half billion dollars for arts and cultural programs by increasing the retail sales tax. The sales tax is recognized as a regressive tax that hits lower income households the hardest.

“This measure would be a bonanza for large and wealthy organizations that don’t need taxpayer support—including the Woodland Park Zoo, an organization that has already received over $177 million in taxpayer subsidies by Seattle and King County residents,” said Alyne Fortgang, Co-founder of Friends.

Friends was created to advocate for humane treatment of the zoo’s elephants and to encourage the elephants’ relocation to an accredited sanctuary. Woodland Park Zoo did relocate elephants Chai and Bamboo in 2015, but to the Oklahoma City Zoo, an even worse zoo for elephants. Chai died within only eight months of arriving in Oklahoma, allegedly from substandard care and negligence. Bamboo survives, but as a victim and aggressor, incompatible with other elephants at the zoo and suffering from chronic health conditions.

“We urged the King County council to exclude the zoo as a recipient of funds from the measure. With millions of dollars in reserve and heavily subsidized already, Woodland Park Zoo needs no more taxpayer support” said Fortgang. “However, Proposition 1 will make the zoo eligible for tens of millions of additional taxpayer dollars while higher priorities like affordable housing, roads, homelessness, education and other human services desperately need funding.” Furthermore, if passed, none of the funding would go to improve the animals’ quality of life in the zoo.

One of the primary sponsors of the Proposition 1 ballot measure on the King County Council is Jeanne Kohl-Welles. However, in addition to serving on the County Council, Ms. Kohl-Welles is member of Woodland Park Zoo’s Board of Directors. “Instead of leading the charge for this ballot measure, Ms. Kohl-Welles should have recused herself. She should not have led the Council’s effort to pass an ordinance that would qualify the zoo, an organization she helps direct, for millions of additional taxpayer dollars” said Fortgang. “This is clearly a conflict of interest that was not disclosed as required by state law.”


Press Release: Oklahoma City Zoo tops list as worst Zoo in U.S.


Seattle, WA (January 11, 2017) – In Defense of Animals chose The Oklahoma City Zoo (OKC Zoo) as the worst zoo for elephants in the United States in 2016. OKC Zoo earned the top spot based on its miserable record of elephant disease, aggression and premature deaths—as well as its irresponsible elephant breeding program.

In 2015, OKC Zoo and Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ) rejected the will of Seattle’s residents, City Council and Mayor when Bamboo and Chai were moved to OKC Zoo instead of an accredited sanctuary. Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants (“Friends”) warned OKC Zoo about Bamboo’s aggressive history and incompatibility with other elephants, as well as Bamboo and Chai’s exposure to the to the deadly herpes virus that killed Hansa, a young calf at WPZ.

Soon after Chai and Bamboo’s arrival at OKC Zoo in 2015, Malee (4-years-old) died from the same strain of Elephant Herpes Virus Chai suffered from just months earlier. Yet OKC Zoo continued with plans to artificially inseminate Chandra a month later. Achara (2-years-old) became ill with the virus in September 2016 but survived and three months later Chandra was again artificially inseminated. This disease causes the major organs to hemorrhage resulting in a horrifically painful illness and often death. Alyne Fortgang, Co-founder of Friends says, “Continuing to breed at this zoo virtually ensures suffering and death—it’s unethical and must stop immediately.”

Chai died only eight months after arriving at OKC Zoo allegedly due to substandard health care and negligence. She wasted away, rapidly losing 1,000 pounds, and suffered from an infection in her bloodstream likely caused by 25 puss-filled abscesses—all of which went untreated.

Now Bamboo, languishes at OKC Zoo, an aggressor and victim. The other elephants at the zoo have repeatedly attacked Bamboo, injuring various parts of her body including her trunk and one of the bites amputated the end of her tail. In turn, Bamboo attacked others including baby Achara and has tried to harm the keepers numerous times. Fortgang adds, “Trapped within a cramped hot-wired yard there is no ability to flee from an attack causing an unhealthy and dangerous situation.”

Given Bamboo’s chronic health issues and incompatibility with the other elephants, her continued residence at OKC Zoo has little rationale. It is not too late for OKC Zoo to do the right thing by allowing her to heal and live in peace at an accredited elephant sanctuary.

In Defense of Animals’ 2016 Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants list:

YouTube Preview Image
Video obtained through Oklahoma Open Records.

Press Release: USDA Complaint Urges Investigation into Battered Elephant at Oklahoma City Zoo

Seattle, WA (September 21, 2016) – Today, Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants (Friends), a Seattle elephant advocacy group, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture alleging that the Oklahoma City Zoo (OCZ) may be in violation of the federal Animal Welfare Act for housing incompatible elephants together. Friends has grave concerns for the health and safety of Bamboo, who was moved to the OCZ from Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo in 2015, as well as for the other elephants housed at the zoo.

Zoo records show that Bamboo has been the victim of aggression from the other elephants multiple times since her arrival at OCZ. They have repeatedly attacked Bamboo’s tail and in March a bite amputated about two inches. Another attack caused a six-inch gash on her trunk. Bamboo also suffered from other unexplained conditions such as edema on her abdomen, skin abrasions and fissures, and swelling above one eye—any or all of which could result from attacks.

Because the elephants are confined in a tiny, hot-wired yard, they don’t have the space or ability to escape from potential attacks. An elephant at San Diego Safari Park was killed by another elephant and on at least one occasion an elephant was killed by another at Toronto’s Zoo.

Bamboo has also shown aggression toward the other elephants. In May she pushed two-year-old Achara under a hot-wire fence. It has just been announced that has Achara tested positive for the deadly EEHV virus. Friends is especially concerned about the stress caused by aggressive incidents because stress can cause the dormant virus to break out, putting Achara’s life at risk.

Records also show that Bamboo has been separated from the other elephants overnight at least 46 times from April 2016 through mid-August. This follows the same dysfunctional regiment that Bamboo was subject to at the Woodland Park Zoo. Separation is extremely distressing to highly social animals.

Friends warned OCZ of potential integration issues with Bamboo who had already demonstrated incompatibility problems both at WPZ and Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo. In transferring Bamboo to Tacoma in 2005, WPZ warned that Bamboo’s “unpredictable behavior” posed a significant challenge in managing elephants as a “herd.” Point Defiance was unable to integrate Bamboo and returned her to Seattle less than a year later. Despite this known history, OCZ accepted Bamboo.

“Aggression between elephants in a space that does not allow for escape puts the elephants at serious risk for injury or death,” said Alyne Fortgang, Co-founder of Friends. “It was inexcusable of OCZ to have created this problem, and reprehensible of them to ignore it. It would be in the best interests of Bamboo and the other elephants to be retired to a sanctuary where they would have thousands of acres to roam and elephant companions of their own choosing.”

Read the USDA Complaint here

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

Woodland Park Zoo Transfers Ownership of Elephants Before New City Council Can Send Them to a Sanctuary

For Immediate Release

Bamboo suffering from foot problems

Bamboo suffering from foot problems

Seattle, WA (November 18, 2015) – This week, Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ) announced that it transferred ownership of elephants, Bamboo and Chai, to the Oklahoma City Zoo and Sri to the St. Louis Zoo.

The timing of WPZ’s decision, in advance of a new city council taking office, raises questions about the true motivation behind this sudden and unannounced move. WPZ’s claim that transferring ownership is standard industry practice contradicts the zoo’s own track record. Sri has been on loan from WPZ to St. Louis Zoo since 2002. WPZ has never transferred ownership until now.

In this past election, Seattle likely voted in an elephant-friendly City Council. This majority could pass an ordinance, previously introduced by Councilmember Sawant that would order the WPZ-owned elephants to be retired to an accredited sanctuary. WPZ rushed the elephants out of town before it could be voted on.

Chai in barn stall


It is disingenuous for WPZ to say that the transfer of ownership “does not mean we will stop caring about them.” The zoo’s own actions indicate otherwise. Instead of retiring Bamboo and Chai to a sanctuary, WPZ condemned them to a life sentence in a tiny yard and a barren barn cell in a freezing climate. Before that, WPZ unceremoniously dumped Sri at the St. Louis Zoo where she is one of 10 elephants on 2 acres enduring the same impoverished conditions as Bamboo and Chai. Sadly, these 3 elephants are at the mercy of Woodland Park Zoo which has ignored science, the majority of Seattle citizens, the Seattle City Council, and most gravely the physical and psychological health of these animals.

“It’s not enough that Woodland Park Zoo has stubbornly and willfully denied Bamboo, Chai, and Sri the opportunity to live out their golden years in open space immersed in nature – which only a sanctuary can provide,” said Alyne Fortgang, Co-founder of Friends. “Now in yet another cowardly and suspicious move, the zoo has taken away the people’s voice in determining a humane quality of life for our elephants.”

Seattle citizens are able to find comfort in the closure of Woodland Park Zoo’s elephant exhibit earlier this year. “Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants celebrates that we will never again bear witness to elephants suffering in Seattle,” says Fortgang.


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

Open Letter to City Council and Mayor on behalf of your constituents

Dear Mayor Murray and City Council Members:

Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ) stands poised to transfer Chai and Bamboo to Oklahoma City Zoo (OCZ) within the next few days or weeks. This decision was taken without regard to the community’s wishes and in arrogant abrogation of your written request to the zoo that it consider a sanctuary option.

WPZ’s actions will condemn our elephants to live out their twilight years in a zoo whose elephant program belongs in the 1950’s. The blatant shortcomings of OCZ are appalling and numerous: a most inhospitable climate, a small and cramped exhibit space that will make effective quarantine difficult if not impossible should its male elephant, who has tested positive for antibodies to TB, develop the disease, the frequent close confinement of elephants inside the barn in spaces antithetical to their natural needs, especially during cold weather, the harassment of their elephants through regular performances of circus-style tricks, the close proximity of a loud rock amphitheater adjacent to the elephant exhibit, and the cruel use of electric prods during the labor and delivery of their most recent elephant calf.

This should not be Chai and Bamboo’s fate.

Sri at St. Louis Zoo

Sri at the St. Louis Zoo, sent there by WPZ

The City of Seattle reserved powers to itself in the Management Agreement with WPZ to weigh in and take part in all animal disposition decisions. Section 15.3 specifically provides that animal disposition decisions are subject to City policy. Stoel Rives, one of Seattle’s finest law firms and wholly independent of the politics of this controversy, agrees:

Under Section 15.3 of the 2001 Operating and Management Agreement, WPZS may dispose of Zoo Animals, but any such disposition must comply with “existing and any adopted . . . disposition policies approved by the City.” We understand this language as giving the City authority to adopt policies regarding disposition of the elephants that WPZS must follow.

This means that WPZ can go forward with its cruel plan only if you, our elected officials, fail to stop it.

Your constituents have clearly shown they want our elephants retired to a warm spacious sanctuary where management is based entirely upon on the elephants’ needs with no pandering to a controlling zoo industry.

Chai in barn stall


This could be your last opportunity to champion the community’s conscience and the opinions of elephant experts worldwide. Failure to act, when the tools to correct this great injustice are in your hands and when the elephants need you the most, will greatly distress the large Seattle community that has shown how much it cares for Chai and Bamboo and their future.

A draft resolution is attached. We call on you to take all action necessary to exercise your authority under the Management Agreement, to champion our rightful place in the vanguard of progressive cities, and to save our elephants from a cruel end.

Yours sincerely,
Lisa Kane, JD
Alyne Fortgang, Co-founder, Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants

Woodland Park Zoo is in Violation of Federal Regulation over Elephant Care


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.”

Read the USDA inspection report here

Zoo Captivity and Lack of Monitoring are to Blame for Watoto’s Premature Death

For Immediate Release

Watoto kept in solitary confinement

Watoto, 1969 – 2014

Woodland Park Zoo’s admission yesterday that Watoto, an elephant who died on August 22, 2014 after she was found down in the morning, confirmed in part what we already knew: Watoto died from chronic health issues caused by zoo confinement, most notably debilitating arthritis. But the Zoo raised more questions than it answered and continues to ignore two critical questions: How long was Watoto down and who, if anyone, monitored the elephant exhibit the night and morning of Watoto’s death?

The Zoo’s medical records showed steady deterioration in Watoto’s arthritic and lame condition. The Zoo’s records state “chronic reduced range of motion” and “increased lameness.” The lameness had gotten so extreme that she was taken off display for a time prior to July 21st, 2014. Arthritis and lameness in elephants confined in zoos is directly related to their environment and among the leading causes of premature death. Watoto was forced to stand on hard substrates during prolonged lock up in the barn and on unyielding compacted ground outdoors.

Records obtained by Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants confirm that nighttime security did not visit the elephant exhibit the evening and morning of August 21 and 22. Security staff made rounds which included patrols of the parking lots, gates, fences, the carousel, the rose garden, and furnace with no visit to the elephant exhibit.

This means that Watoto could have been down for at least eight hours before keepers discovered her the morning of the 22nd. The Zoo acknowledged that it can be life-threatening for an elephant to be lying down for an extended period of time. Why did the Zoo fail to provide overnight monitoring to an elephant known to suffer from chronic lameness, which put her at risk of falling down or increased her inability to rise on her own?

Despite Watoto’s decline and the grave consequences associated with a fall, Woodland Park Zoo’s Elephant Management Protocol does not include any plan to manage emergencies involving its elephants; even emergencies as common in the zoo industry as elephant falls.

Attempts to raise Watoto the morning of the 22nd with cloth straps and machinery were unsuccessful. While the Zoo took “several hourly blood draws,” it never called the fire department to attempt to raise her. Elephants in similar deadly predicaments in zoos have successfully been raised with fire department equipment, as was the case with Maggie in Alaska, who went down twice. Maggie is now thriving at the PAWS sanctuary in California.

“If the zoo had adequate monitoring in place or called in the fire department to raise Watoto, she might be alive today” says Alyne Fortgang, Co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants.

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo urges Mayor Murray, the Seattle City Council and the Woodland Park Zoological Society to immediately retire the two surviving elephants, Chai and Bamboo to a sanctuary. At a sanctuary they can experience what was denied to Watoto: the opportunity to heal from the physical and psychological damage caused by captivity and the chance to live a long life in a warm climate on vast acreage.

Zoo’s Secrecy shows why Prop 1 is a bad idea

For Immediate Release

Monday, July 28th (Seattle, WA) – Before a packed courtroom of elephant advocates on Friday, a judge allowed the Woodland Park Zoo continue operating under a veil of secrecy. In Fortgang v. Woodland Park Zoo, King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel ruled that the Zoo is not subject to Washington State’s Public Records Act despite the fact that it receives a significant amount of tax dollars every year.

As Co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, Fortgang has filed multiple public disclosure requests to the Zoo. Frequently the Zoo was non-responsive to requests for basic financial and animal welfare information or provided information that would later prove to be grossly inaccurate.

Rob Roy Smith, with Kilpatrick, Townsend, & Stockton, LLP, representing Ms. Fortgang said: “This is dark day for our state’s sunshine laws. The Zoo’s position, that it can take taxpayer dollars but not tell taxpayers how they are used, is Exhibit A as to why Prop. 1 is a bad idea.”

For years, Woodland Park Zoo has held out its hand for massive taxpayer support while with the other slapping away taxpayer requests for transparency and accountability. To date, the Zoo has received about $126 million tax dollars since the City of Seattle turned over operation of the zoo to the Zoological Society in 2002. Under the contract between the City and the Zoo, it can count on at least $203,000,000 in total funding, yet the public cannot count on information on how it uses our tax dollars.

Judge Rietschel found that the amount of taxpayer money and the free use of City parkland, city buildings and animals given to the Zoo was significant, but said that her hands were tied by a prior Court of Appeals decision. The Judge expressed her sympathy for plaintiff Alyne Fortgang’s position and stated that “citizens should be able to follow the money”.

In addition to the ongoing contractual obligation of City and County taxpayers to send millions of dollars to the Zoo, Prop 1, if passed, is slated to give the Zoo up to additional $34 million dollars. “Prop. 1 will be another taxpayer giveaway to the Zoo without any public accountability,” said Smith.

Ms. Fortgang is considering all of her legal options including an appeal.

King County courtroom

Photo credit: Karen Ducey

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