Open Letter to Woodland Park Zoo’s Elephant Exhibit & Program Task Force

To: Task Force on the Woodland Park Zoo Elephant Exhibit & Program
Re: April 18th’s Woodland Park Zoo Elephant Exhibit & Program Task Force Meeting

I was in attendance at last night’s first Task Force meeting and have several questions regarding it.

  1. Why were the members of the “experts” panel on elephant health and behavior picked before the Task Force had even convened its first meeting, and why were they picked exclusively by someone currently sitting on Woodland Park Zoo’s Board of Directors (also a member of the Task Force) with no input or formal review from the Task Force as a whole or from those either inside or outside the Task Force that are not directly associated with Woodland Park Zoo?
  2. How can the public be assured that, in picking the “experts” panel, this Task Force member is working in the best interests of the Task Force and not Woodland Park Zoo?
  3. Does the Task Force not see a conflict of interest in numbers 1 and 2 above? If not, why?
  4. Woodland Park Zoo’s CEO, who is not a member of the Task Force, interjected at several points during the meeting along with other Zoo staff, and spoke with several Task Force members privately while the meeting was underway. My understanding is that the “public” is not allowed to participate in these meetings. Why then was the CEO of Woodland Park Zoo and other zoo staff allowed that privilege while others there were not given the same opportunity?

    To clarify: these were interjections initiated by Woodland Park Zoo’s CEO, seated in the public gallery, and were not the result of a Task Force member either asking her a specific question or asking a general question that they were hoping someone in the audience from Woodland Park Zoo could answer.
  5. Given the precedent set by the Task Force in allowing Woodland Park Zoo to actively intervene during meetings, will the Task Force allow other members of the public in attendance to interject with information, data, and opinion. If not, why? Or is this a privilege reserved exclusively for Woodland Park Zoo staff and executives?
  6. Who is collating Task Board members’ requests for further information and deciding what background and follow-up reading to provide them with? Is this person (or persons) associated in any way with Wooland Park Zoo? If so, what guarantees are in place that the Task Force will be given data and information not filtered through WPZ, who obviously have a bias in the outcome of the meetings and the Task Force’s findings?

Nancy Hawkes’ (General Curator at WPZ) presentation, besides being biased in the extreme, briefly brought up the daily treatment the zoo’s elephants receive for foot issues. I would encourage the Task Force to look into the source of foot, nail, and joint issues in elephants in captivity, as almost without fail they are the direct result of zoo confinement and not issues typically encountered with elephants in the wild, or with elephants in sanctuaries where they are given ample acreage to roam. I would also strongly encourage the Task Force to look closely at the zoo’s elephant breeding program – how many times they’ve attempted to breed specific elephants, the physical process through which they’re restrained to be inseminated, and the results of all those attempts – and ask themselves if that’s the “humane” treatment the zoo claims they care for their self-described “intelligent” and “self-aware” charges with.

In summary, I appreciate the charge the Task Force have been given and also appreciate being allowed the opportunity to attend meetings as a member of the public. That said, all of the presentations and data presented last night came from Woodland Park Zoo; heavily influenced with their point-of-view on the matter and with no input from outside individuals or organizations. As such, from where I sat as a concerned citizen it very much appeared to already be a game stacked in favor of Woodland Park Zoo at the expense of the elephants’ welfare.

Is the Task Force just a dog and pony show? Or, will they actively solicit a variety of opinions from experts and others not associated with Woodland Park Zoo or the AZA, or otherwise put forward and rubber stamped by them? Further, will they curtail Woodland Park Zoo’s undue influence on the proceedings and work for the best interests of the elephants involved, not just the zoo’s?

Kind Regards,
CH Young
Seattle, WA

For further reading on the situation regarding the care and treatment of Woodland Park Zoo’s elephants, please read Michael J. Berens excellent Seattle Times expose on the subject, Glamour Beasts: The Dark Side of Elephants in Captivity.

  • craig

    With their permission, I wanted to pass along an email that was received fom the Task Force in reply to the open letter:

    Thank you for taking the time attend last night’s meeting and for sharing these thoughtful comments and questions. We’ll share this with the chairs and task force members.

    Vanessa Lund
    Staff, Task Force on the Woodland Park Zoo Elephant Exhibit & Program

  • Lissa Mitchell

    The frustration with the Task Force, which you describe so well, has led us to stage an “Elephant Teach-In” Thursday, June 13 from 6-7 pm at the Phinney Neighborhood Center, room 6. The purpose is to begin a community conversation about our local elephants which will lead to a sane and humane outcome that considers the elephants’ welfare first. All are welcome.

    • craig

      Thanks for the notice about tomorrow’s teach-in at PNC, Lissa!

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