Just Walk Away

Excerpt from the Final Report of the Woodland Park Zoo Elephant Task Force:


The Task Force came to many areas of agreement over the course of their work. However, there were some key findings and recommendations where consensus was not achieved. This section contains the opinions of a minority of members of the WPZ Elephant Task Force and explains areas where they disagree with the majority of the Task Force.


  • Watoto, Chai and Bamboo cannot be “active” within the confines of the existing exhibit, where the outdoor area is approximately one acre, and each elephant has access to only a part of that acre.


  • If Chai, Watoto and Bamboo cannot be safely reintegrated, WPZ should consider transferring one or more of the elephants to an elephant sanctuary with no current or recent history of active TB.
  • There is insufficient evidence that creating a multi-generational herd would cure the repetitive behaviors of Chai, Watoto or Bamboo. African elephants in the wild do live in matriarchal herds, but it is unreasonable to think natural conditions can be re-created in a zoo environment.
  • Having a larger space and an improved enrichment program might address repetitive behaviors more effectively than creating a multi-generational herd.
  • If improvements to the WPZ elephant program and exhibit cannot be done expeditiously for the benefit of Watoto, Chai and Bamboo, WPZ should consider transferring the elephants to an elephant sanctuary without the presence of active TB.


  • There is insufficient evidence to support the majority’s finding that the WPZ elephant exhibit contributes in any significant way to changing attitudes or behaviors, and to engaging the public in elephant conservation programs.
  • Studies may have shown some attitude changes towards animals as the result of visiting zoos and aquariums, but there is no compelling evidence of increased conservation actions.
    • The minority notes that there are few scientific studies dealing with how zoos change conservation attitudes and behaviors of visitors. A study funded by the AZA (Falk, 2007), analyzed attitudes, not behaviors, and found that zoo visits resulted in long-term positive effects on visitors’ attitudes toward other (nonhuman) animals. A study conducted by scientists from Emory University and other institutions concluded that the AZA study was flawed and that therefore “there is no compelling or even suggestive evidence for the claim that zoos and aquariums promote attitude change, education and interest in conservation in visitors.”
    • Another study (A Closer Examination of the Impact of Zoo Visits on Visitor Behavior, Smith et al, 2007) focused on changes in behavior. It concluded that, although visitors said that they would engage in more conservation activities, no significant behavioral changes occurred as a result of zoo visits.
    • There are no other studies that were brought to the attention of the Task Force and therefore, the minority believes there is insufficient evidence to support the majority’s claims that visits to zoos result in changes in visitors’ conservation attitudes or behaviors.
    • WPZ’s financial contribution to elephant conservation efforts in Asia and Africa has not been substantial. Between 1998 and 2012, it totaled $267,805. There should be an increase in conservation funding in range countries.


  • WPZ should not have a breeding program. Elephants belong in the wild in Asia and Africa. The elephants that are currently in zoos, including Chai, Bamboo and Watoto, cannot be returned to the wild but intentionally increasing the captive elephant population through breeding should be avoided.
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