Category: WPZ in the news

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

Watoto euthanized today at WPZ – Vigil tomorrow at noon



Today is very sad day. Watoto was euthanized. She died without ever having had a good day.

Watoto’s life must not be in vain. Bamboo and Chai must find peace and health in a sanctuary.

Watoto was discovered down when the keepers arrived this morning. Unable to get her up, the Zoo’s staff decided to euthanize her. This brings up many questions: why aren’t the elephants monitored 24/7 as they are at the sanctuaries? What are the zoo’s policies for a downed elephant? Do they have adequate equipment to lift an elephant?

Watoto was only 45 years old. In the wild, she would have been in the prime of her life; still bearing calves. Confinement in a zoo takes a physical and psychological toll on these far-ranging and intelligent animals. The zoo industry’s own statistics show that elephants die young.

Woodland Park Zoo denied Watoto of one her greatest needs–companionship of her own kind. After being ripped from her mother in Africa as a baby, Watoto never set eyes on another African elephant. The zoo also denied Watoto the opportunity to spend her remaining years in a sanctuary.

Watoto in the yard at WPZ

Watoto in the yard at WPZ

Watoto suffered from a host of chronic captivity-related diseases as a result of living her entire life in the cramped quarters of Woodland Park Zoo.

Woodland Park Zoo is an exceptionally poor environment. The elephants are locked outdoors in less than 1 acre. Indoors, the elephants are locked in barren cages, standing on hard substrate and only able to walk a few steps in any direction. This lockup, due to our climate, lasts 16-17 hours a day, every day, for over half of the year. Scientific American describes this as: “tortuous conditions [which] inflict serious physical and psychological damage on such smart and sensitive animals.”

We hope that Watoto’s suffering and death will not be in vain. We are very grateful for Seattle’s Mayor Murray’s statement that  we should “reopen a dialogue in this city about the proper habitat for elephants.”  We need him to go farther: Bamboo and Chai need to retire to a sanctuary.

Please write to ask the Mayor and the City Council to order the zoo to release Bamboo and Chai to a sanctuary. They have the authority.,,,,,,,,,

Click here for the Zoo’s press release.

Vigil Saturday at Noon

We will have hold a vigil/ peaceful demonstration at the street entrance to Woodland Park Zoo’s south entrance tomorrow at noon.

What:  Vigil for beautiful Watoto
When: Saturday, August 23, 2014 at noon
Where:  Street entrance to the Zoo’s south entrance at N. 50th and Fremont Ave. N.

Rest in peace, Watoto.


Profiles – Alyne Fortgang + Nancy Pennington

Fortgang and Pennington

Fortgang and Pennington, photo from

Kim+Craig gives us an in-depth look into Alyne Fortgang and Nancy Pennington, cofounders of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants. They provide insight into how the campaign to relocate the Zoo’s elephants to a more suitable habitat began and grew over time. The profile piece includes several videos.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

If Woodland Park Zoo is to be believed, Alyne Fortgang and Nancy Pennington, the two polite women seated opposite me and the co-founders behind Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, are “extremists” bent on undoing all the good the Zoo has created by insisting the occupants of its elephant exhibit be moved to one of two sanctuaries to allow them to live out the rest of their days in a space and climate more suitable to their species’ status as Earth’s largest land animal.

Check out the full article and the interview videos on

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

WPZ’s Op-Ed defies science and public conscience

The Seattle Times published an op-ed by the Chair and Vice-Chair of Woodland Park Zoo’s Board of Directors.  It shows, once again, that the Zoo is insular; defying science and the public conscience.

The Zoo pejoratively labeled anyone who believes that elephants don’t belong in the zoo as extremists.  Do they think that Scientific American, Dr. Jane Goodall, The Seattle Times and 62% of Seattleites are extremists?

Scientific American (February, 2014):  “We now have solid evidence that elephants are some of the most intelligent, social and empathic animals around—so how can we justify keeping them in captivity?”  “…if the zoos really have the animals’ best interests at heart, they would close their elephant exhibits.”
The Science Is In: Elephants Are Even Smarter Than We Realized [Video]

Scientific American Opinion and Analysis piece states (March, 2014): “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.  “…captive breeding programs should be terminated.”
Free the Elephants and Orcas in Captivity [Editorial]

Dr. Jane Goodall:  “…there are some species, like elephants, which will always be unsuited to zoo environments.”
Optimal Future (Page 56)

The Seattle Times’ Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, using zoo industry records, revealed that elephants die young and suffer in zoos.  He used Woodland Park Zoo as a prime example.  The Seattle Times has issued five editorials calling for the retirement of the elephants to a sanctuary.

The Zoo’s 5-year plan is to send Watoto to another zoo and then bring in two more elephants, one whom is of breeding age.  Where there have been 3 elephants, the Zoo will cram 4 – 5 into the 1 acre yard or locked in the same barn cages—which defines “tortuous conditions”.  Their meager allotment of $1.5 – $3 million (tax) dollars will not improve the elephants’ quality of life.  LA and San Diego Zoos’ commitment to their elephants cost $42 million.

The Zoo touts the Task Force for legitimizing this plan.  The members of the Task Force were handpicked by the Zoo to get these desired results—most members had a conflict of interest.  The Zoo Board member who selected the health panel advising the Task Force was biased: he penned an op-ed in the Seattle Times saying the elephants should stay at the Zoo.

The Zoo used the fact that the City has the authority to appoint 3 people out of the Zoo’s 45-member Board of Directors as an endorsement of the elephant program by the citizens of Seattle.  We know that is patently not true.  The City has not taken a position on the elephant issue.  Furthermore, an October 2013 survey showed that 62% of Seattleites (90% of whom are registered voters) want the elephants retired to a sanctuary in a warm climate with a vast amount of space.

The Zoo referred to their own poll which was about how the zoo rates as an institution.  Their poll was NOT about how citizens of Seattle feel about the elephant program.  Furthermore, when we requested to see the Zoo’s poll, they refused.  Ours is readily available.

Elephants don’t belong in Seattle. Period.  The climate is unsuitable forcing the elephants to be locked in barn cages 16-17 hours a day for over half of the year.  The meager 1 acre is inadequate for these far-ranging animals causing physical and psychological harm.

Our Zoo is stuck in 19th century thinking and the elephants suffer as a result; Bamboo paces in circles, Chai bobs her head, and Watoto sways… waiting to heal in a sanctuary.

Please write to the Seattle City Council and Mayor:,,,,,,,,,


Editorial: Time to move the Woodland Park Zoo’s elephants

A Seattle Times editorial advocates sending the Woodland Park Zoo elephants to a sanctuary, rather than keeping them in their cramped “habitat.” Here is an excerpt:

The zoo plans to spend up to $3 million over five years, essentially hanging new curtains. Zookeepers would install video cameras in the barns, provide timed feeding devices and put up weather shelters that make the point the elephants are stranded in the wrong climate.

Instead of a reasonable plan to send the zoo’s three elephants to a sanctuary, the talk is about squeezing a fourth elephant into the same cramped space.

Not unlike the elephants themselves, the elephant enclosure retains the same aching footprint. Add the fact that two of the female elephants do not get along, which makes their living space, well, all the more truncated.

Read the full editorial on the Seattle Times site.

Plenty of news coverage on the WPZ elephants

WPZ’s elephant program made it into The Wrap:

Dumbo, Meet Thy Namesake: The geniuses in charge of the Woodland Park Zoo have decided to solve the problem of driving the zoo’s elephants slowly insane by confining them in inadequate space by possibly adding yet another elephant….  Seriously: If the zoo won’t listen to reason, science, public opinion, or even a lawsuit, it looks like the best option is…”

From the Seattle Times article referenced above:

Woodland Park Zoo’s insignificant and insincere commitment to the elephants well-being will do little to alleviate their tedium, and the unhealthy physical and psychological conditions from which they suffer.  It’s time the Zoo stop ignoring science and community values and retire the elephants to a sanctuary.”

And finally, check out this great article on Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of FOWPZE contributed.

Editorial: Let Woodland Park Zoo’s three aging elephants retire to a sanctuary

Check out the latest Seattle Times Editorial about the Woodland Park Zoo elephants. Here’s an excerpt:

If the Woodland Park Zoo board of directors does not announce aggressive plans to relocate the zoo’s three aging elephants, then it has no credible response.

Last year, a task force and an expert review report looked at the zoo’s cramped elephant exhibit. A majority concluded the elephant exhibit needed to be renovated, and the youngest female, Chai, should be naturally bred to grow the herd with a calf.

A minority said the elephant exhibit needed to be improved, but the current elephants should be allowed to age out or retire. Once they are gone, closure of the exhibit should follow.

No. The next step, the best step, is to truly begin with the end in mind. Get out of the elephant-display business, and start the fundraising to move Watoto, Bamboo and Chai to a sanctuary with space to roam. Get these large animals out of a pinched life in a confined setting.

Read the full editorial in the Seattle Times

For Immediate Release: Citizen Alleges Woodland Park Zoo is in Violation of Washington State’s Public Records Act

Seattle, WA – Alyne Fortgang, a Seattle resident, filed a lawsuit today seeking a court order declaring that the Woodland Park Zoological Society be made subject to Washington State’s Public Records Act.

Fortgang is Co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants (a local advocacy group) and as such, has filed numerous public records requests to the Zoo for information regarding the health and welfare of the three elephants held there. In many instances the Zoo withheld information, claimed it had no records pertaining to the request, or provided information that later would prove to be grossly inaccurate.

Fortgang asserts that through the 2002 Operating Agreement between the City of Seattle and the Zoo, the Zoo functions as a “hybrid” public agency when it took over running the Zoo as a public park and therefore must comply with Washington State’s Public Records Act.

Through the Operating Agreement the City is required to give the zoo ongoing benefits. Not only are the Zoo’s operations funded with $10.4 million taxpayer dollars, which increases each year, but the Zoo is provided with the use of City-owned buildings and park land at no cost.

“Woodland Park Zoo can’t have it both ways; if it chooses to take our generous tax dollars, then it must be held accountable on how it spends our money,” said Alyne Fortgang. “I am simply asking that the Zoo be transparent with tax payers, which is why public records laws exist.”

A copy of Fortgang’s lawsuit is available here.

Alyne Fortgang is co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, a NARN Campaign.  Friends raises awareness about the plight of the three elephants living on display at the Woodland Park Zoo.  Friends hopes the Zoo will make the humane decision to retire Bamboo, Chai, and Watoto to a sanctuary in a warmer climate that would offer them vast spaces to roam.

Woodland Park Zoo’s biased Task Force gets National Attention

Seattle, WA – Once again Woodland Park Zoo’s elephant program has made In Defense of Animals’ “Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants” — and for good reason.  The Zoo’s housing of elephants in a tiny display in our unsuitable climate has received increasingly strong criticism.  Michael J. Berens, a Pulitzer Prize winning Seattle Times journalist delivered a scathing investigative report that elephants do not thrive in zoos as the zoo industry would like us to believe.  He used Woodland Park Zoo as a prime example.

In damage control mode the Zoo convened a Task Force.  Not only did the Zoo handpick its members but they also handpicked the health panel advising the Task Force, shutting out perspectives from outside of the zoo industry.

The Task Force refused to include internationally renowned experts suggested by Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants which included the co-founders of The Elephant Sanctuary in TN.  Instead, the Task Force went forward with their own zoo industry insiders to achieve the results they wanted:  the elephants are happy and healthy in their fraction of an acre and being locked up in a tiny barren stall indoors for up to 17 hours a day for over half of the year.  Furthermore, the Chair of the Health Panel defended the 112 highly invasive artificial insemination procedures on Chai.

Science, and frankly common sense, tells us that the largest land mammal cannot be physically and psychologically healthy in such an impoverished environment regardless of excellent veterinarian care — care, which is necessitated by the adverse effects of the elephants’ environment.

With the overwhelmingly negative reaction resulting from “Blackfish” to orcas being kept in pools at Sea World, the same enlightenment is evolving with Bamboo, Chai and Watoto being kept in a display “cage” at Woodland Park Zoo. A recent survey showed 62% of Seattleites want the elephants retired to a sanctuary in a warmer climate with hundreds of acres to roam.

It’s time for Woodland Park Zoo’s Board of Directors to listen and retire the elephants to a sanctuary.

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