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Seattle Times readers want Woodland Park Zoo's elephant exhibit closed

Last week, The Seattle Times asked readers whether the Woodland Park Zoo should send its elephants to an animal sanctuary. Yesterday, September 2 the Times shared the poll's results which found 84 percent of readers feel the zoo’s elephant exhibit should be shut down. The poll had the largest response of any posted by The Seattle Times this summer, and received over 124 comments from readers.

The Woodland Park Zoo has faced controversy over its elephant exhibit for years
The Woodland Park Zoo has faced controversy over its elephant exhibit for yearsPhoto by Joern Pollex/Getty Images

“Bamboo and Chai deserve the chance to live out their lives with more choices, in more space and with more elephant community members,” wrote user EZinda, “Make the compassionate choice; get them out of the confines of the zoo, the noisy city, and send them to sanctuary.”

On the night of August 22, Watoto, the zoo’s 45-year-old African elephant, collapsed. Woodland Park Zoo keepers found Watoto when they arrived in the morning, and her worsening condition lead to the decision to euthanize her.

The plight of Woodland Park Zoo’s elephants is not a breaking story though. Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants (FOWPZE) is dedicated to having Chai and Bamboo, the zoo’s remaining elephants, transferred to a sanctuary that would provide more space and a better climate for the pachyderms.

Alyne Fortgang, one of FOWPZE's co-founders, told the Animal News Examiner in an email, "The Seattle Times poll shows, once again, that the public's conscience demands that the surviving two elephants be sent to a sanctuary. Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants commissioned a poll in October 2013 that also showed a super majority want the elephants retired. The zoo is not only defying the public but they are defying science. Studies have clearly shown that elephants suffer physically and psychologically in zoo confinement."

Furthermore, Hansa, a 6-year-old Asian elephant living at the Woodland Park Zoo, died unexpectedly on June 8, 2007. A month after Hansa’s passing, the zoo said she died from an undetected herpes virus. The diagnosis came from a Smithsonian National Zoo herpes virus expert. Dr. Laura Richman.

Today, FOWPZE issued a press release urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate Watoto’s death. “It is evident that zoo staff did not monitor Watoto overnight and it is unknown whether her death was protracted,” FOWPZE’s press release asserts, “Or whether prompt staff intervention could have prevented Watoto’s death or remediated any suffering.”

Despite the feelings of Seattleites and FOWPZE, Woodland Park Zoo officials claim the elephant enclosure will be improved. Also, Woodland Park Zoo wants to expand its Asian elephant herd by adding one or two of the mammals.