SEATTLE, SAN DIEGO, OKLAHOMA CITY––The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle on May 8, 2015 denied Friends of the Woodland Park Zoo Elephants’ application for an injunction to keep the former Woodland Park Zoo elephants Bamboo and Chai in temporary holding facilities at the San Diego Zoo.
Bamboo and Chai, now at their intended permanent home at the Oklahoma City Zoo, had been stranded at the San Diego Zoo since April 17, 2015, after an attempt to truck them to Oklahoma City was thwarted by heavy snow in the Rocky Mountains.
Said Friends of the Woodland Park Zoo Elephants in a Facebook statement, “We hoped the suit could go to discovery, which would show that the Oklahoma City Zoo would further deteriorate their health and quality of life and that they should be retired to the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary,” near San Andreas, California. “Instead the judge ruled that Woodland Park Zoo could proceed with moving the elephants to Oklahoma.”
Earlier in the week Friends of the Woodland Park Zoo, a subsidiary of the Northwest Animal Rights Network, had hoped a May 4, 2015 demonstration at Seattle City Hall would persuade the Seattle City Council to reconsider a motion by council member Kshama Sawant directing the zoo to rescind the transfer of Bamboo and Chai. That did not happen, either.
“Careful planning & consideration”
Said Woodland Park Zoo director Deborah Jensen, “We are hopeful that the move can be completed next week. Careful planning and consideration goes into these transports and for safety and security reasons, the exact departure dates and times cannot be disclosed in advance, but we will inform our zoo family and community once Chai and Bamboo are safely on their way.”
Had satellite weather forecasts been available in 218 B.C., the notoriously bull-headed Carthaginian general Hannibal Barca might never have tried to march 38 elephants through the Alps to attack Rome, losing 35 of them along the way. The history of western civilization might have been considerably different.
The Woodland Park Zoo on April 15, 2015 had the advantage of National Weather Service warnings of heavy snow falling over the central and southern Rocky Mountains, and elected to send the former Seattle zoo elephants Chai and Bamboo that way anyhow, on a planned route through Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas en route to their new home at the Oklahoma City Zoo.
Friends of the Woodland Park Zoo Elephants had campaigned for years to have the Seattle zoo elephants Chai, Bamboo, and Watoto retired from exhibition and relocated to either the Ark 2000 sanctuary in California or The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. But only after Watoto, 45, was euthanized on August 22, 2014 due to immobilizing arthritis did the Woodland Park Zoo agree to relocate Chai, 35, and Bamboo, 48, leaving the zoo without elephants for the first time since 1921.
Instead of retiring the elephants, the Woodland Park Zoo elected to send them to Oklahoma City, keeping them within the American Zoo Association’s Species Survival Program, which focuses on maintaining zoo populations of endangered animals through captive breeding.
Chai, the younger of the two Woodland Park Zoo elephants, had already experienced 112 unsuccessful attempts at artificial insemination, Seattle Times staff reporter Michael J. Berens revealed in 2012.
“Chai gave birth in November 2000,” Berens recalled, “after she was bred at the Dickerson Park Zoo in Missouri. But the calf, Hansa, died at age 6 from an infectious herpes virus. Zoo officials remain uncertain how the deadly disease was transmitted.”
“Desire to get them on the road”
Friends of the Woodland Park Zoo Elephants unsuccessfully sought an injunction to block the transfer.
“Woodland Park Zoo officials say the forecast was ‘favorable’ when the caravan pulled out of Seattle, just hours after a court ruling cleared the way for the elephants’ transfer,” wrote Seattle Times science reporter Sandi Daughton.
““I’m sure there was a desire to get them on the road,” acknowledged Woodland Park Zoo chief operating officer Bruce Bohmke.
“But earlier that day,” Daughton continued, “the National Weather Service warned of heavy snow across the central and southern Rocky Mountains, including the Salt Lake City region, where bad weather forced the caravan to detour south on April 16. Treacherous driving conditions caused so many crashes on I-80 in southern Wyoming, where the [elephant] convoy had planned to travel, that a large stretch of the freeway was closed for nearly two days.”
“Everybody knew there was going to be a pretty significant snowstorm,” National Weather Service meteorologist Al Ross told Daughton, from the Weather Service office in Riverton, Wyoming.
“Salt Lake City was talking about the storm, we were talking about it, Cheyenne was talking about it, Denver was talking about it,” Ross emphasized.
Convoy diverted to San Diego
Narrated Daughton, “The convoy carrying the animals was diverted to California. Facing a much longer trip because of the detour, and with signs that Bamboo was tiring in her small crate, officials opted to divert to the San Diego Zoo. The elephants arrived there about 48 hours after they were loaded into their containers in Seattle.”
Chai and Bamboo since then have been kept in “in a small quarantine area,” Daughton said, “where a Woodland Park official said they will remain for several more weeks. The elephants now face a second trip of about 1,350 miles from San Diego to Oklahoma City. Bohmke said the goal is to make that move before the summer heat sets in.”
Bamboo and Chai were actually moved only a few days later, arriving in Oklahoma City on May 13, 2015.
Meanwhile, lion cub escaped
Compounding the fiasco, Daughton wrote, “On the same day the elephants Chai and Bamboo were loaded for shipment to their new home in Oklahoma, a 6-month-old lion cub walked out of his exhibit through an open door at the Woodland Park Zoo.”
The lion cub was captured about an hour later without reported risk to the public.
“The incident is the third time since 2006 that big cats have escaped from exhibits at the Seattle zoo,” Daughton recalled. “None of the animals ever came close to the public. The escapes were cited as evidence of a ‘pattern of unsafe handling.’ in a complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture filed on April 28, 2015 by Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants.
(See also “Where will Woodland Park Zoo elephants be sent to die?”, http://www.animals24-7.org/2014/12/07/where-will-woodland-park-zoo-elephants-be-sent-to-die/.)
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