THE SEATTLE TIMES
PART 1: Zoos' efforts to preserve and propagate elephants have largely failed, both in Seattle and nationally. The infant-mortality rate of elephants in zoos is almost triple the rate in the wild. Read the story →
PART 2: American zoos face swift and harsh punishment when their aged elephants are retired to a 2,300-acre sanctuary in the California foothills. Read the story →
BENJAMIN BENSCHNEIDER / SEATTLE TIMES
Hansa, who in 2000 became the only elephant born at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, frolics in this 2001 photo. Hansa died at 6½ years old, the victim of a virus that had been killing young elephants at U.S. zoos.
The Seattle Times confronted a significant hurdle in examining elephant deaths in U.S. zoos: The industry doesn't comprehensively track elephant births and deaths.
To do that ourselves, we turned first to two zoo-industry books, the 2010 Asian Elephant Studbook and the 2011 African Elephant Studbook, which list zoo and circus elephants dating back to the late 1800s. The problem is that these studbooks, which track breeding, contain no information about cause of death.
So we turned to elephant consultant Dan Koehl, a Swedish zookeeper, who has created a comprehensive database of elephant ownership worldwide (www.elephant.se), including footnoted accounts of deaths and births.
We combined the zoo industry's studbooks and Koehl's data to make a custom database. Over several months, we independently verified the history of each elephant. With the assistance of two staff researchers, we also filled in missing information for more than a hundred elephants by combing through thousands of pages of public records obtained from zoos and by scouring databases of old newspaper articles.
Although we obtained vital records of zoo elephants for more than a century, we focused our analysis on the past 50 years, beginning in 1962 with the birth of Packy at a Portland zoo — the first elephant to be born in a zoo in North America.
To track the history of Woodland Park Zoo's elephant program, we relied on four key record types: daily zookeeper logs and reports, medical-history charts, clinical-pathology records, and diagnostic-laboratory results. Additionally, we obtained zoo memorandums and emails, and interviewed top officials connected to the elephant program.
On a national level, a variety of on-the-record sources, most connected to animal-welfare groups, provided hundreds of pages of internal communications and emails from the national Association of Zoos and Aquariums; we verified those records when cited in the series.
In addition, we reviewed thousands of pages of court records, zoo-industry research reports, legislative hearings and zoo financial records.
— Michael J. Berens
Reporter: Michael J. Berens; photographer: Steve Ringman; multimedia producer: Danny Gawlowski; editor: James Neff; desk editor: Jerry Holloron; photo editor: Fred Nelson; print designer: Bob Warcup; graphics: Mark Nowlin, Justin Mayo; producer: Katrina Barlow; web design/development: Mark Zawilski; additional audio production: Peter Neff; researchers: Gene Balk, David Turim.
December 3, 2012MICHAEL DURHAM / OREGON ZOO / AP
A newborn female Asian elephant calf is with her mother, Rose-Tu, after she was born Friday at the Oregon Zoo in Portland.
Last Friday's birth of a 300-pound Asian female at the Oregon Zoo sparked public celebration and generated national news.
But the newborn calf doesn't legally belong to the Portland zoo. Instead, it is the property of a private company, Have Trunk Will Travel, of Perris, Calif., which assumes ownership of the newborn within a month, according to a contract between the Oregon Zoo and the company that was obtained by The Seattle Times. Read the story →
December 4, 2012
The future ownership of a baby elephant born at Portland's zoo last week remains under negotiation as top zoo officials promised Tuesday to keep the calf even if they have to buy her from a private traveling show. Read the story →
December 18, 2012
Woodland Park Zoo's elephant exhibit will be scrutinized by a panel of experts as part of a task force requested by Seattle City Council members who said they are concerned about the welfare and future of the zoo's three aging elephants. Read the story →