Not ten minutes into the second meeting of the Woodland Park Zoo’s Elephant Task Force on May 28th and it was becoming sadly clear what direction things were heading, and what that meant in regards to saving the zoo’s three elephants, Bamboo, Watoto, and Chai.
Publicly, the zoo industry was claiming – and continues to claim today – that “elephants are thriving inside zoos.” It’s a message that AZA officials have delivered repeatedly to lawmakers and regulators, trumpeted in news releases, and highlighted in a recent national marketing campaign. But they know it’s not true. And it never has been. Rather, the decades-long effort by zoos to preserve and protect elephants is failing, exacerbated by substandard conditions and denial of mounting scientific evidence that most elephants do not thrive in captivity.
-Michael J. Berens, Seattle Times
To recap, the zoo – bowing to the pressure of a growing public outcry about its elephant exhibit and, in particular, its attempts to unsuccessfully artificially inseminate Chai over 100 times, which the Seattle Times covered in its excellent expose “Glamour Beasts (The Dark Side of Elephant Captivity)” – formed a task force at the request of the Seattle City Council to conduct “an objective and transparent review of WPZ elephants’ health and care, and the value of the elephant program and exhibit to the zoo’s education and conservation objectives.” WPZ handpicked the fifteen-member board, four of whom currently serve on the zoo’s Board of Directors. A fifth, Task Force co-chair Jan Hendrickson, is the zoo’s former chair and director emeritus. The remaining board members, as In Defense of Animals wrote in their recap of the first meeting in April, “include several attorneys, a public affairs officer, a museum employee, a YWCA board member, and a University of Washington director. None of the panel members have any recognized expertise in captive or wild elephant issues and welfare, or on the subject of public education about elephants and related conservation. In introducing themselves, numerous panel members noted they were ‘brand new to the issue.’”