Woodland Park Zoo joins Wildlife Conservation Society in an international effort to end the illegal ivory trade that is fueling the elephant conservation crisis. 

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April 17, 2015

Inclement weather reroutes elephants to San Diego Zoo

Two days ago, Woodland Park Zoo’s female Asian elephants, Bamboo and Chai, departed on a custom-built elephant transport vehicle for their new home at Oklahoma City Zoo. The caravan had to change their route in Salt Lake City due to a storm in Colorado and Wyoming that was expected to increase in severity. Because the reroute would have extended the trip a day longer, a decision was made for veterinary precautions to go to San Diego Zoo and allow the elephants to rest. 

A total of three elephant experts, two veterinarians and three staff with the transportation consultant are accompanying the truck transporting Bamboo and Chai. The team has been making stops every few hours for wellness checks on the elephants and to provide food and change water. 

According to Martin Ramirez, mammal curator at Woodland Park Zoo, an extra day on the road would have been challenging for Bamboo and Chai. “For their well-being, we made the proactive decision to head to San Diego Zoo. They have expert elephant and veterinary staff, the room to accommodate our elephants and the appropriate equipment on site to unload our elephants,” said Ramirez.

On arrival at San Diego Zoo, Bamboo and Chai have been unloaded from the travel crates into an indoor facility where the elephants will be in quarantine, which is standard procedure for any new animal at the zoo. The indoor facility and outdoor yard are off view to the public.
Woodland Park Zoo’s and San Diego Zoo’s veterinarians have done a preliminary health assessment on each elephant. “Understandably, just as after a long road trip ourselves, both elephants are tired and show signs of muscle stiffness. They both need the time to walk around, stretch their legs, and adjust to their new surroundings. We don’t know how long our elephants will stay at San Diego Zoo. We want to give them time to rest comfortably,” said Ramirez.

“We are extremely grateful that San Diego Zoo has opened its home to accept Bamboo and Chai at this time. We are fortunate that the expert team at San Diego Zoo is available to provide this assistance and accommodation,” said Dr. Deborah Jensen, Woodland Park Zoo President and CEO. “We are disappointed that we couldn’t continue on to Oklahoma City, but the health and welfare of our elephants come first. We did not want to keep them on the road an additional day.”

“The Oklahoma City Zoo team stands ready to assist in any capacity for Bamboo, Chai and our Woodland Park Zoo colleagues. Collaborative efforts among Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) accredited zoos including Woodland Park, San Diego and Oklahoma City continue to focus on the safety, well-being and preservation of the animals in our care,” said Dr. Dwight Lawson, Oklahoma City Zoo Director and CEO.

San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Care Center opened in 2009. San Diego Zoo currently has a mixed Asian and African elephant herd in which the six females are socially integrated and a bull lives separately. 

Read the Q&A

April 15, 2015

Elephants are on the road to Oklahoma City Zoo

A new chapter began for female Asian elephants Bamboo and Chai when they stepped into elephant-sized travel crates, were loaded on the flatbed truck, and left Woodland Park Zoo for their new home at Oklahoma City Zoo. The truck pulled out at 6:15 p.m. PST today, April 15. 

Bamboo, 48, and Chai, 36, were the last remaining elephants at Woodland Park Zoo. Their departure came after four months of planning to ensure they can join a family of Asian elephants and live in a socially enriching environment. 

The 2,000-mile journey to Oklahoma City will take approximately 35 to 40 hours. A total of three elephant experts, two veterinarians and three staff with the transport consultant are accompanying the truck. The trip will be straight through except to stop every few hours to check on the animals’ well-being and to provide food and change water; the elephants will have continuous access to water during the trip, not just at stops. The truck has a 65-gallon water tank, which will be refilled as needed along the way.

“We understand that many zoo members and members of our community may be disappointed by the departure but legal disputes against Woodland Park Zoo complicated our ability to announce notice in advance,” said Dr. Deborah Jensen, Woodland Park Zoo President and CEO. Further, for the safety and security of Bamboo and Chai, the exact timing of departure could not be announced. “Our priority was to help our elephants make a smooth and safe transition into the crates and onto the truck without incident.”

The elephants also are being monitored via wireless cameras in the truck. “There is always an inherent risk in transporting animals and we are taking every precautionary measure to ensure that Bamboo and Chai arrive safely, as we do for all of our animal transfers,” said Martin Ramirez, Woodland Park Zoo’s mammal curator. As a contingency plan, zoo veterinarians and elephant experts are available along the travel route pre-arranged to respond if needed. 

“Just like people pack coolers and food for road trips, we ‘packed a trunk’ for our elephants consisting of 200 pounds of pellets, 660 pounds of hay, four cases of watermelon, one case of cantaloupe, one case of honeydew melon, two ball toys, five bags of wood shavings for the crates and feed tubs,” added Ramirez. 

Preparing elephants for a move required extensive planning. For the past two months, Woodland Park Zoo keepers worked diligently to acquaint the elephants with their travel crates. On a daily basis, the elephants were given access to the crates. “They became comfortable rather quickly and keepers offered positive reinforcement with food rewards and verbal praise,” said Ramirez. 

Woodland Park Zoo announced in February that Bamboo and Chai would move to Oklahoma City Zoo to join a family with a larger, multi-generational herd, which was a primary recommendation of the Woodland Park Zoo’s Elephant Task Force. Jensen said Oklahoma City Zoo was selected because it meets Woodland Park Zoo’s set of criteria based on recommendations from animal welfare experts including: a social herd of Asian elephants into which Chai and Bamboo may successfully integrate, a state-of-the-art facility, a healthy environment free of active infectious disease, excellent keeper and veterinary care, a restricted contact management system (keepers and animals are always separated by protective barriers), and an established history of stable finances and leadership. According to Dr. Nancy Hawkes, Woodland Park Zoo’s general curator, elephants in the wild live in multi-generational herds. “We’re very excited about the opportunity for Bamboo and Chai to join a growing family at their new home where they’ll have the chance to be companions and even aunts to younger elephants. This is a very natural social grouping for elephants,” said Hawkes.

Oklahoma City Zoo currently has an Asian elephant family of four females and a male, ranging in ages from 2 months old to 47 years old: female Asha, 20; female Chandra, 18, sister of Asha; female Malee, 4, the daughter of Asha; female Achara, born December 2014, the daughter of Asha and Rex; and sole male Rex, 47, the father of Achara. 

Upon arriving at Oklahoma City Zoo, Bamboo and Chai will be unloaded from the travel crates into the barn where they will be in quarantine for 30 days, which is standard procedure for any new animal at the zoo. During the quarantine period, the elephants will have access to two stalls inside the barn and one exhibit outdoor yard, and will have visual, auditory and olfactory contact with the other elephants. Their new keepers will provide them with a variety of enrichment items and favorite toys to help keep them stimulated and comfortable as they adjust to their new surroundings. In addition, Woodland Park Zoo’s elephant staff will spend as much time as necessary with Bamboo and Chai to help ease their transition to a new facility and help settle them into their new surroundings. 

Oklahoma City Zoo has expertise in integrating herds and will follow a methodical plan that socializes Bamboo and Chai with the herd in incremental steps. According to Laura Bottaro, an animal curator at Oklahoma City Zoo, introductions will begin in the barn where the elephants can see, smell and touch one another through protective barriers. “During the introduction process, elephants work out a social hierarchy. This process can be immediate or it can take months. We will follow the cues of the animals,” said Bottaro. 

Factors in the Decision
Woodland Park Zoo Society Board announced in November 2014 it would phase out its on-site elephant program after several months of working to implement the recommendations of the Elephant Task Force to grow its Asian elephant herd and program. Adding to the herd of our two elephants to create a multi-generational herd was not realistic in the foreseeable future and would work against the broader social welfare of Bamboo and Chai. 

WPZ’s analysis included consideration of many of the other 32 facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums that currently hold Asian elephants in the U.S. and the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) facility located in California. PAWS currently has only one female Asian elephant remaining, which is not a natural social grouping for elephants, and is struggling with an active tuberculosis infection.  As a consequence of the TB infection at this facility, Woodland Park Zoo’s elephants would be required to be socially isolated from, not integrated with, other Asian elephants. These circumstances alone—active TB infection in the herd and social isolation instead of herd integration—are insurmountable disqualifiers regardless of the potential space that may be available at the Performing Animal Welfare Society facility. 

Woodland Park Zoo will remain committed to supporting its elephant conservation projects in Borneo and Tanzania and will continue to play a key role in seeking legislation to ban trafficking in elephant ivory in the state of Washington.

Read the complete Q&A for more information

April 15, 2015

Appeal is denied for federal preliminary injunction

Statement available from Dr. Deborah Jensen, President and CEO of Woodland Park Zoo

Read the statement


April 3, 2015

Woodland Park Zoo wins preliminary injunction lawsuit

Statement from Dr. Deborah Jensen, President and CEO of Woodland Park Zoo.

Read the Statement


March 10, 2015

Setting the record straight

Woodland Park Zoo offers clarifications and corrections to inaccuracies made in recent publications.

Get the facts


February 27, 2015

Woodland Park Zoo’s elephants Bamboo and Chai to join an elephant family at Oklahoma City Zoo

After three months of carefully evaluating potential homes for its two female Asian elephants, 48-year-old Bamboo and 36-year-old Chai, Woodland Park Zoo has selected Oklahoma City Zoo, which has a family of Asian elephants including multi-generations. The zoo anticipates moving the elephants between late March and mid-April.

Read the full article

November 27, 2014

Guest: Woodland Park Zoo’s elephants belong in another zoo, not a sanctuary
David Towne (Special to the Seattle Times)


Read the full article


November 19, 2014

Woodland Park Zoo to phase out its elephant program

Plans will begin for relocating elephants to an AZA-accredited institution.


Read the full article


September 8, 2014

Setting the Record Straight

Get the facts about Woodland Park Zoo elephants


August 25, 2014

Woodland Park Zoo asks community to remember African elephant Watoto

Read the full story



March 28, 2014

Plans for elephant program

Read the full press release


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Elephant Relocation Q&A
Read through these commonly asked questions and answers to learn more.

Elephant Fact Sheet
About our elephants.

Elephant family in Kinabatangan, Hutan


Learn more about Woodland Park Zoo's elephant conservation work with its Partners for Wildlife in Asia and Africa.

Hutan Asian Elephant Conservation Project

Tanzania Wildlife Migration: Tarangire Elephants


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