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Originally published Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 4:06 PM

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Editorial: Time to move the Woodland Park Zoo’s elephants

More of the same is no answer for Woodland Park Zoo elephants stuck in a cramped space. Adding a fourth elephant is not an improvement.

Seattle Times Editorial

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ROCKING from side to side, pouring water into sand, the Woodland Park Zoo board of directors confirmed it had nothing new to say.

Such was the zoo’s response to a task force and expert review report that explored alternatives for an aging elephant exhibit and its unhappy, aging occupants.

The zoo plans to spend up to $3 million over five years, essentially hanging new curtains. Zookeepers would install video cameras in the barns, provide timed feeding devices and put up weather shelters that make the point the elephants are stranded in the wrong climate.

Instead of a reasonable plan to send the zoo’s three elephants to a sanctuary, the talk is about squeezing a fourth elephant into the same cramped space.

Not unlike the elephants themselves, the elephant enclosure retains the same aching footprint. Add the fact that two of the female elephants do not get along, which makes their living space, well, all the more truncated.

Watoto, an unhappy African elephant, might be relocated, according to the zoo plan, and another more compatible Asian elephant brought in to join Bamboo and Chai. And, perhaps, another younger female elephant to breed.

Reporter Michael Berens, whose Seattle Times series “Glamour Beasts” shone a harsh light on the lives of elephants in captivity, found more than two dozen zoos have closed or plan to phase out their elephant exhibits.

The Woodland Park Zoo’s bout of introspection was stirred by Berens’ series. The board’s response to the six-month study it commissioned is simply more of the same.

The zoo receives about one-third of its annual budget from public sources, and cash disappears behind another kind of fenced-off enclosure.

The board’s secrecy, or lack of transparency, with those funds, is being challenged with a public-records lawsuit. At some point, the city of Seattle ought to find its relationship, or at least the lack of financial candor, a bit awkward.

The board of directors of the Woodland Park Zoo is marking time in increasingly cramped policy space. Be careful, such artificial confinement has not been healthy for the elephants.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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