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SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT

 

The Real Story about Woodland Park Zoo's Elephants

We recognize Woodland Park Zoo's elephant program continues to spark dialogue in the community. Unfortunately, this dialogue is being colored by inflammatory campaigns from local and national activist groups and the media they garner. These campaigns rely on alarming sound bites that take information out of context, and misrepresent and omit facts to confuse and mislead well-intentioned people. These campaigns mischaracterize the zoo as profit-driven and entertainment-focused. We are a conservation and education nonprofit whose earnings are reinvested in our mission to save animals and their habitats through conservation leadership and engaging experiences, inspiring people to learn, care and act.

At Woodland Park Zoo, our animals’ welfare comes first and foremost. We are their guardians. For 365 days a year the elephants at Woodland Park Zoo received exemplary care from our team of expert elephant management staff and veterinarians. Our staff has over 250 combined years of elephant management experience and many of them have been taking care of our herd for more than 20 years. The best care and consideration of these animals is our utmost priority, and this commitment led to the creation of the community-based Elephant Task Force to review our program and make long-term recommendations for Chai's and Bamboo's ongoing health and well-being. Following these recommendations, and after determining we could not grow a social herd for Chai and Bamboo within a reasonable timeframe here at Woodland Park Zoo, we made the decision to phase out our on-site elephant program and relocate Chai and Bamboo together to a new home in a healthy, social and stable environment. Female Asian elephants are social animals and they naturally live in multi-generational herds in the wild. We have shared in detail the criteria we used to determine that Oklahoma City Zoo best meets their specific and individual needs, and you can continue to follow the progress of the relocation through our online updates. 

 

Clarifications and Counterpoints

Updated April 2015 | See previous edition

Woodland Park Zoo is a community-based organization that remains open to dialogue, and while we certainly respect personal conviction related to animals, we believe you deserve to draw your conclusions based on accurate information.

We invite you to spend a few minutes reading and absorbing the following clarifications to confusing or misleading claims made in recent publications.


CLAIMS AND INACCURACIES

TRUTH AND CLARIFICATIONS

“Heavy snow on its way to the Central Rockies…the weather system will…bring considerable moisture…heavy snow across portions of Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. Those were the states of WPZ’s route.”

Source of claim:
Investigation of Zoo’s Botched Transport Urged
Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, April 23, 2015

As a part of its standard transport plans, the experienced transport consultant moving Woodland Park Zoo’s elephants did indeed check the weather forecast for the planned route in advance of leaving Seattle and frequently while en route. We would never put our animals or our staff at risk had a severe storm been forecasted when they left Seattle. Unfortunately, weather fronts and systems change unexpectedly.

The weather forecast was a possible minor disturbance for the mid-west region later in the week, more to the south. It was during a late afternoon stop in Ogden, Utah on April 16 when the team learned the storm had been updated to increased severity and to cover a much larger area farther to the north. The decision was made to reroute south to Las Vegas then Kingman, Ariz. and take I-40. Colorado was not on the planned route.

Alternate routes were prepared in advance to allow for flexibility in response to any changing conditions on the road.


CLAIMS AND INACCURACIES

TRUTH AND CLARIFICATIONS

“Stopped in Salt Lake City, and with a report that Bamboo had colic, the transport “detoured” to San Diego. With an ailing elephant, the Zoo decided to go another 740 miles to San Diego.”

Source of claim:
Investigation of Zoo’s Botched Transport Urged
Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, April 23, 2015

Both veterinarians traveling with the elephants, one of whom is a Woodland Park Zoo staff veterinarian closely familiar with both elephants, confirm that Bamboo did not have colic during or following transport. Both elephants exited the crates easily and have been doing well in San Diego under the expert care of Woodland Park Zoo keeper staff.

Round-the-clock monitoring via live feed cameras plus stops every few hours to check on the animals’ well-being enabled the animal care and veterinary staff to pick up on early indicators that Bamboo was becoming tired. The caravan was in Las Vegas, well into the detoured southerly route, when the team made a conservative decision for animal welfare precautions to take a break from the journey and give the elephants a chance to rest and stretch their legs. We did not want to keep the animals on the road an extra day.

San Diego Zoo was the optimal choice because they could provide the necessary equipment to offload the crates containing the animals, they have expert staff to manage elephant transfers, and they had the quality space to accommodate our elephants immediately.

 


CLAIMS AND INACCURACIES

TRUTH AND CLARIFICATIONS

“The elephants were whisked out of Seattle the same day an injunction was denied and an ordinance was made public that could send the elephants to a sanctuary. Friends believes this is no coincidence and that Woodland Park Zoo put their own self-interest before the health and safety of Bamboo and Chai.”

Source of claim:
Investigation of Zoo’s Botched Transport Urged
Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, April 23, 2015

First, an ordinance was not made public prior to or on April 15, the day we moved our elephants, nor were we aware of such an ordinance.

Animal transports, especially for large mammals, require extensive planning. During the onloading of Bamboo and Chai into the traveling crates, two veterinary medical officers from USDA were at the zoo to monitor the process to ensure that safety standards were met and the elephants’ health and welfare were a priority.

In February when we announced Oklahoma City Zoo as the new home for our elephants, we announced our timeline as late March to mid-April to move them. Since then, we had been planning and had in place a carefully choreographed logistical and veterinary plan. Well before the timing of the lawsuits was known, April 15 was the target date so long as the elephants were ready, the logistics were in place and the weather was cooperative. As it worked out, the last decision denying the activists an injunction was issued just in time to allow the move to proceed as scheduled. We had been encouraging the public to come see the elephants before they leave and we provided press updates that we would move them once the legal disputes were resolved. For the safety and security of the animals, we had never planned to publicize the exact date of departure, and this is standard practice for all of our animal moves, not only elephants.

 


CLAIMS AND INACCURACIES

TRUTH AND CLARIFICATIONS

“...despite the fact that 92 percent of Seattleites want Chai and Bamboo sent to a sanctuary, not another zoo.”

Source of claim:
Caged Elderly Elephants Have One Sliver Of Hope For Freedom
The Dodo, April 23, 2015

The “92 percent” figure cited refers to an online Seattle Times poll conducted in Nov. 2014. The maximum possible number of participants in the poll represents less than half a percent of the total population of Seattle (2,011 out of 640,500, the estimate population for Seattle in 2014) and it is a serious error to indicate that the results represent 92 percent of Seattle’s community.


CLAIMS AND INACCURACIES

TRUTH AND CLARIFICATIONS

"None of these zoos can give Bamboo and Chai more space per elephant than they have now. None can provide open space or pastures for foraging." 

Source of claim:
Due Diligence Report: Options for Chai and Bamboo
Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, January 27, 2015

Space is important, but there are other important considerations for meeting the welfare of elephants. In the wild, elephants live in multigenerational herds. The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) does not have a social herd of Asian elephants and, therefore, Chai and Bamboo would be isolated from other elephants; this is not a natural social grouping for elephants. At Oklahoma City Zoo, Bamboo and Chai would join a family of elephants including two young adults, a 4 year old and an infant. This is a natural and positive dynamic for female elephants.

 


CLAIMS AND INACCURACIES

TRUTH AND CLARIFICATIONS

"The move to Oklahoma was originally expected to cost $110,000. This detour will cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars more."

Source of claim:
Animal activists call for investigation into Woodland Park Zoo's elephant transport

KIRO TV, April 23, 2015

Taxpayers will not be incurring any costs for transportation of the animals to Oklahoma City Zoo. The Woodland Park Zoo Society Board of Directors will use board-designated reserve funds for transportation costs.


CLAIMS AND INACCURACIES

TRUTH AND CLARIFICATIONS

“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.”


Source of claim:
Open Letter to City Council and Mayor on behalf of your constituents
Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, March 5, 2015

Woodland Park Zoo has been engaged in a very public dialogue about the future of our elephant program since early 2013 when the Woodland Park Zoo Society Board chartered a citizen’s Elephant Task Force to provide input on this. This Task Force made recommendations to the Board in late 2013. Throughout 2014 the zoo had input from citizens at Board meetings, via written comments, and through a special session for public comment held in January 2015. In addition the zoo has been in regular communication in writing and in person with numerous elected officials, zoo members and zoo guests.


CLAIMS AND INACCURACIES

TRUTH AND CLARIFICATIONS

“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 OKC Zoo 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.”

Source of claim:
Open Letter to City Council and Mayor on behalf of your constituents
Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, March 5, 2015

Let us address the numerous mischaracterizations in this claim:

Weather
The elephants at OKC Zoo have the choice to go inside or outside nearly every day. The spacious barn and outdoor habitats are rich with multiple enrichment-based components to help keep the elephants physically and mentally stimulated including: puzzle feeders, scent enrichment, hay nets, zip line for hanging toys, timed feeders, rotation variation among the habitats. The top enrichment activity at OKC Zoo is the calves. Nothing is more enriching in their environment than the social dynamics. The babies never allow the rest of the herd to have a dull moment; they are always moving and playing, giving the opportunity for constant locomotion and mental stimulation.

When it’s hot, the outdoor yards offer plenty of shade structures and water features. The elephants create mud wallows and have sand for sunscreen and natural coolant just like in the wild. The state-of-the-art barn is climate controlled and includes fans plus large openings with shutters that can open for air flow; the floors in the barn are heated and communal indoor areas have sand substrate.

Tuberculosis (TB)
Rex has never tested positive for tuberculosis. When he arrived in Oklahoma City, he had a false-positive reaction to a serologic test which is no longer used to diagnose TB in elephants because of its inaccuracy.

The best and most reliable method currently available to confirm TB in an elephant is the routine culture of trunk wash samples, which is considered the gold standard of diagnosis.

The test referred to by activists is not validated in elephants and is no longer available or in use by USDA.

Demonstrations
“Tricks” are not performed. OKC Zoo offers behavioral presentations, including training sessions, at its demonstration pavilion. Every elephant behavior presented to zoo visitors has a purpose to facilitate daily care and is appropriate for their medical care. For example, a behavior may be to promote joint mobility.

Amphitheater
The amphitheater is a half mile away from the elephant exhibit and faces away from the zoo and the animals. OKC Zoo has in place specific volume and sound parameters that are monitored during each concert for the animals and the neighborhood. Staff has never seen the elephants react to the music and there is extra security on concert nights.

Delivery of calf

Like Woodland Park Zoo, OKC Zoo practices a restricted contact management system: humans and animals are separated by a primary containment barrier. An electric prod is visible in the birth video of Achara and was carried in the event of a potential safety issue including eminent bodily harm to OKC Zoo’s keepers from the elephant while they were assisting her during the birthing process. It was not used. It is a part of their safety protocol but not part of their training and day-to-day protocol.


CLAIMS AND INACCURACIES

TRUTH AND CLARIFICATIONS

“…both of Oklahoma City’s adult females were exposed to a type of herpes virus that often kills young animals. Eighteen-year-old Chandra was the only survivor of a group of young elephants that contracted the virus at the Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, Mo. Her 20-year-old sister Asha, mother of the two calves at Oklahoma City, was exposed but didn’t get sick, [OKC Zoo veterinarian] D’Agostino said.”


Source of claim:
Protesters: Oklahoma not ‘OK’ for Seattle’s elephants
Seattle Times, March 2, 2015

There are many questions about this complex group of elephant herpesviruses (EEHV), which is often misunderstood. A cooperative multi-institutional research effort has been underway for more than a decade to investigate this set of diseases including identifying the viruses, learning about their transmission, improving treatments and finding a vaccine. Smithsonian National Zoo, Houston Zoo, International Elephant Foundation, and Baylor College of Medicine have been at the forefront of this research.

Every elephant potentially carries one or more herpesvirus within them, regardless of whether that elephant lives in a wild population, a zoo or a sanctuary. This is very similar to the various herpesviruses in humans such as cold sores, chicken pox or shingles.

Current research shows that elephant herpesvirus (EEHV) has been in elephant populations for tens of millions of years. EEHV also has been confirmed as the cause of death in wild elephant populations in Asia.

We don’t know yet why some animals get ill and others don’t. OKC Zoo’s herd is screened and monitored for the virus on a weekly basis and they remain healthy.

Chandra had clinical disease from elephant herpesvirus 1A in November 1997 (she was 17 months old at the time) at Dickerson Park Zoo. With treatment and supportive care she survived the infection. Asha was with her at the time but never got sick. Since that time Chandra has had no illness or health concerns at all. 

Bamboo and Chai will be screened on a regular basis and have regular health checks like the rest of their herd. 


CLAIMS AND INACCURACIES

TRUTH AND CLARIFICATIONS

"Chai was sent to Dickerson Park Zoo, by then a known virus hot spot, in the late ‘90s for breeding."


Source of claim:
Protesters: Oklahoma not ‘OK’ for Seattle’s elephants
Seattle Times, March 2, 2015

Claims that certain zoos are contaminated once an animal becomes ill from EEHV are unfounded and based on a lack of understanding of how the viruses co-exist with their hosts. Like all herpesviruses, EEHV cannot survive outside the body, so a herpes outbreak does not “contaminate” a facility.

Every elephant potentially carries one or more herpesvirus within them, regardless of whether that elephant lives in a wild population, a zoo or a sanctuary. This is very similar to the various herpesviruses in humans such as cold sores, chicken pox or shingles.


CLAIMS AND INACCURACIES

TRUTH AND CLARIFICATIONS

“The records do show a few problems revealed during USDA inspections over the past several years, including a damaged shade structure in the zoo’s old elephant yard...”


Source of claim:
Protesters: Oklahoma not ‘OK’ for Seattle’s elephants
Seattle Times, March 2, 2015

In response to the elephant yard claim, the  damaged shade structure refers to a USDA report in 2006. The exhibit has since been replaced with the state-of-the-art Elephant Habitat opened in 2011.

 


CLAIMS AND INACCURACIES

TRUTH AND CLARIFICATIONS

“The monotony and inactivity of zoo life, which don’t just show in obsessive movements such as Chai’s shuffling and, to lesser degree, Bamboo’s pacing. They actually kill elephants, through foot infections, arthritis and other joint problems. Case in point: Watoto, Woodland Park’s arthritic African elephant, who was euthanized after she ‘went down’ unnoticed last October and couldn’t get back up.”


Source of claim:
Will Woodland Park’s elephants be OK in Oklahoma?
Crosscut, March 1, 2015

The reality is that Chai and Bamboo are in good health and receive excellent care at Woodland Park Zoo. And the experts agree. As part of the Elephant Task Force process, a group of independent veterinary and animal welfare experts from around the country were brought in to assess the health and well-being of our elephants. This Expert Review Panel’s evaluation concluded that Chai and Bamboo are in good medical health and “none exhibit signs of distress, frustration, or pathology.” Still, the panel helped us identify areas where we can improve, and the relocation plan reflects our commitment to providing Chai and Bamboo with a positive future. (Read the report)

There are no data to support the statement that elephants die due to conditions linked to captivity. The most common cause of euthanasia in a geriatric elephant is chronic arthritis, but there are no data to determine the incidence of arthritis in the wild or how long elephants in the wild are able to live with arthritis compared with data from zoo animals. All aging mammals, and especially those with larger body mass, such as giraffe, elk, dogs, horses, and humans, are predisposed to joint issues.

In the wild, the median life expectancy from birth is 41 years for a female African elephant. Watoto was 45 years old.


CLAIMS AND INACCURACIES

TRUTH AND CLARIFICATIONS

“[Bamboo] had to be separated from the dominant Watoto, the late baby Hansa and the resident elephants at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo, where she was sent to ensure she didn’t swat Hansa.

“Social integration is a noble goal, but nothing will likely turn Bamboo into a herd auntie.”


Source of claim:
Will Woodland Park’s elephants be OK in Oklahoma?
Crosscut, March 1, 2015

Oklahoma City Zoo has extensive experience integrating elephants. Their elephant staff believes that Bamboo will become the matriarch of their herd and Chai will smoothly fit into the role as auntie because of her experience with young elephants.

To clarify the information about Bamboo’s history with Woodland Park Zoo’s herd:

Bamboo was initially nervous when Hansa was a baby because she had no experience being around infant elephants. However, as Hansa grew older, Bamboo accepted her and they lived as an integrated herd. We moved Bamboo to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium because after a thorough assessment, we were hopeful she would be more compatible with Asian elephants her age and disposition. However, the herd did not accept Bamboo and it was in her best interest to bring her back home. She was successfully reintegrated with Chai and Hansa.

 


CLAIMS AND INACCURACIES

TRUTH AND CLARIFICATIONS

“Woodland Park didn’t seem so concerned about tuberculosis (or about cold winters) when it sent Sri, a third elephant it still owns, to the St. Louis Zoo on a breeding loan in 2002. Two years earlier a St. Louis elephant’s necropsy had shown latent TB. Another St. Louis elephant later developed an active case and was treated. Sri is still at St. Louis, though she won’t be breeding; she’s still carrying the fetus that died in her first attempt.”


Source of claim:
Will Woodland Park’s elephants be OK in Oklahoma?
Crosscut, March 1, 2015

Tuberculosis (TB) at Saint Louis Zoo was revealed in a necropsy on one of its elephants in 2000. Sri was moved in 2002, at which time there was no active case of TB. Since then none of the Saint Louis Zoo elephants tested positive until 2011; and that elephant after treatment has been negative ever since.

Due to complications in the final weeks of Sri’s pregnancy, the calf died in utero. Since Cesarean section has never been done successfully on an elephant, the best course of action was to allow Sri to pass the calf at her own pace; however, she never expelled the calf and it is believed the fetus has resorbed. This can happen to elephants in the wild as well. Such elephants go on to live healthy lives.

 

 


CLAIMS AND INACCURACIES

TRUTH AND CLARIFICATIONS

“Oklahoma City Zoo has an active breeding program. Chai’s fertility is uncertain, but zoo officials say she may be bred.”


Source of claim:
Will Woodland Park’s elephants be OK in Oklahoma?
Crosscut, March 1, 2015

In late 2013, veterinarians concluded that the likelihood of Chai successfully getting pregnant again was very low.

 

 


 

The Real Elephant in the Room

Here’s the real elephant in the room—the future of elephants is at stake. Each day, 96 elephants are killed in Africa. At this rate, the species will be extinct within 20 years. In Asia, elephants are endangered and wild populations continue to be decimated. This cannot go on. We will not be the generation that allows elephants to disappear.


African elephants. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society.

 

Every time you visit the zoo, you contribute to conservation. Your visit allows us to support direct conservation action on the ground in Africa and Asia through partners like the Tarangire Elephant Project in Tanzania. There our collaborative efforts support a network of 33 game scouts in seven villages who serve as anti-poaching patrol. Our partner reports that in the last year alone, 55 poachers have been arrested.


Village Game Scouts sponsored by the Tarangire Elephant Project in the Makame Wildlife Management Area, Tanzania. Photo by Boniface Osujaki/Tarangire Elephant Project.

 

We believe those who connect with nature are inspired to protect it. At Woodland Park Zoo, the elephants have been conservation heroes. They brought the fight against elephant extinction into the hearts of our visitors and stirred us to action. And we’re seeing incredible results. Last summer alone, 5,000 zoo visitors and community members joined our 96 Elephants campaign, named for the number of African elephants killed each day to fuel the international ivory trade. Shockingly, the United States is the second biggest market for ivory in the world. With your help, we brought the issue of illegal ivory trade to Washington legislators, and are now working on Initiative 1401 to put the power of ending wildlife trafficking directly into voters' hands in November 2015. Working with a coalition of more than 150 zoos and partners, we’re committed to stopping the demand, stopping the trade and stopping the killing.


U.S. Fish and Wildlife repository of confiscated ivory. Photo by Julie Larsen Maher/Wildlife Conservation Society.

 

What we do collectively is powerful, but let’s not forget about the individuals in our herd. Each has their own voice and story to tell, like 9-year-old zoo member Karina, whose advocacy for elephants among her school peers earned her the honorary title of Future Zookeeper of the Year. Karina represents the next generation of conservation stewards whose actions and attitudes will determine the fate of endangered elephants, and in hands like hers, the future looks bright.


Woodland Park Zoo has been a part of this broad community for more than 100 years, and in that time, much has changed in our knowledge and practices, and in our mission and vision. Looking forward, we’re committed to always listening, always learning, and always evolving, working toward one vision: a world with elephants for generations to come.