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Originally published January 27, 2015 at 4:50 PM | Page modified January 29, 2015 at 10:37 AM

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Corrected version

Editorial: Give Woodland Park Zoo elephants Bamboo and Chai much-needed retirement

The Woodland Park Zoo should work with Seattle city officials to find a safe, humane home for Bamboo and Chai.

Seattle Times Editorial


SOME of Seattle’s top officials are taking their boldest step yet to help Asian elephants Bamboo and Chai live out the rest of their days in a peaceful environment.

Woodland Park Zoo officials should embrace this opportunity to work with the city to retire these proud animals to a sanctuary.

On Monday, Mayor Ed Murrayjoined five City Council members urging zoo officials to send Chai and Bamboo to “a facility that is focused primarily on the welfare of the animals.” The councilmembers are Sally Bagshaw, Bruce Harrell, Nick Licata, Mike O’Brien and Kshama Sawant.

They asked the zoo to consider moving the pair to a sanctuary rather than another zoo. Drawing from the different views in a 2013 elephant exhibit task force report, the city officials recommended the zoo find a place that includes some of these qualities:

• A bigger space beyond the 1-acre exhibit the elephants currently share

• A drier, warmer climate

• More activities to improve their behavioral and physical health

The report was completed when the zoo had three healthy elephants. Watoto, an African elephant, was euthanized last August after she fell or lay down and could not get back up.

Soon after, zoo officials announced they would close the exhibit but, disappointingly, said they likely would send Bamboo and Chai to a different zoo.

“The three commonly known sanctuaries do not meet our criteria,” Woodland Park Zoo President and Chief Executive Deborah Jensen wrote in a statement to the press.

Jensen said the zoo will require any new home for Bamboo and Chai to be “free of significant infectious disease,” with conservation programs and “a social herd of multiple animals.” That’s despite the fact that Bamboo has always struggled socializing with other elephants.

The mayor and councilmembers asked the zoo to present its relocation plans by Feb. 27. It’s not too late for Woodland Park Zoo officials to reconsider sanctuaries, such as the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in Northern California, where other zoos have sent their elephants. A donor has offered to pay transportation fees, if the elephants go to sanctuary.

While some zoo supporters have voiced concerns about elephants contracting tuberculosis in sanctuaries, that fear is misplaced: TB has been found in elephants living in zoos and sanctuaries. But no elephants have died at PAWS as a direct result of TB, according to researchers with the international wildlife protection organization called Zoocheck.

However, elephants have suffered and died in zoo settings where they lacked space, were subjected to cold climate and other management practices prohibited in sanctuary settings.

After decades in the public eye, Chai and Bamboo deserve to retire. No more forced breeding. No more forced socializing.

Send them to a safe place where, finally, they can just be.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Mark Higgins, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

Information in this article, originally published on Jan. 27, 2015 was corrected Jan. 28, 2015. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that no elephants have died in sanctuaries as a result of tuberculosis. According to Zoocheck, the international wildlife protection organization, no elephants have died at the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary in Northern California as a direct result of TB.

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