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Originally published Sunday, September 1, 2013 at 4:03 PM

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Editorial: Helping the elephants at the Woodland Park Zoo

An expert review panel reports the Woodland Park Zoo elephants are still in the same cramped space, though have no herpes or TB. More news to come.

Seattle Times Editorial

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WOODLAND Park Zoo’s three female elephants might get to walk their aching feet on sand and spend more time together.

That is the early prognosis from an expert review panel on the future of the zoo’s elephant program and the welfare of Chai, Watoto and Bamboo.

A final report is expected by early fall from the experts convened by the zoo board. The overall health report is positive, but the early indication that a little remodeling might make the zoo a more compatible space for the elephants needs more elaboration.

A Seattle Times series “Glamour Beasts” revealed that elephants are dying out in America’s accredited zoos. The reporting by Michael J. Berens ran counter to zoo-industry accounts.

As an editorial noted last December, many zoos have closed, are ending or discussing closure of their elephant exhibits.

Attempts will be made to breed Chai, age 34, to “provide a multigenerational, healthy, herd experience,” according to a report summary released Wednesday. The effort will rely, it was noted, on natural breeding. An estimated 112 attempts at artificial insemination failed.

How the elephant facilities might be configured to make room for a bull elephant would have to elaborated upon.

This past April a guest columnist in the Times offered another expert view:

“At Woodland Park Zoo elephants suffer physical, social, psychological and emotional deprivation,” wrote David Hancocks, director of the Woodland Park Zoo from 1976 to 1984.

He acknowledged that Woodland Park Zoo is one of the best zoos in the nation, but for elephants, “it remains in the bad old days.”

The final report of the expert review panel will get a close read by thousands of zoo and elephant fans. All of the evidence, experience and options elsewhere suggest that sending Chai, Watoto and Bamboo to a sanctuary is best for the animals.

The rebuttal will have to be especially compelling.

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