Profiles – Alyne Fortgang + Nancy Pennington

It’s gotten to the point where the Zoo can no longer ignore the science of elephants, and they can’t ignore public opinion. And at this point, they can no longer ignore the media. The time has come for the Zoo to finally take care of the problem and let the elephants go.

-Alyne Fortgang

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants co-founders, Alyne Fortgang + Nancy Pennington (and Dougal + Jimmy)

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants co-founders, Alyne Fortgang + Nancy Pennington (and Dougal + Jimmy)

If Woodland Park Zoo is to be believed, Alyne Fortgang and Nancy Pennington, the two polite women seated opposite me and the co-founders behind Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, are “extremists” bent on undoing all the good the Zoo has created by insisting the occupants of its elephant exhibit be moved to one of two sanctuaries to allow them to live out the rest of their days in a space and climate more suitable to their species’ status as Earth’s largest land animal.

I shouldn’t be surprised, I guess. Nancy did repeatedly insist I have some banana bread during our interview, also offering me almond milk for my coffee as Dougal and Jimmy, her two very intimidating canine man-eaters, sat on her lap eyeing me menacingly the entire time. And Alyne, Nancy’s pachyderm partner in crime, did gesticulate passionately while describing where the Zoo has failed Watoto, Bamboo, and Chai, and where zoos in general are failing elephants. I can only imagine these two ladies, average age in their mid-sixties, clad in black balaclavas with crowbars in hand doing whatever it is “extremists” like them do under the cover of darkness and disguise.

Like many of Woodland Park Zoo’s other assessments, they miss the mark completely.

For the better part of a decade Nancy and Alyne have been working tirelessly to see the Zoo’s three elephants released to either the Performing Animal Welfare Society near San Andreas, California, or to The Elephant Sanctuary outside Hohenwald, Tennessee. It’s a simple concept: these sentient, extremely social, highly intelligent beings, who would otherwise roam dozens of miles daily in the wild, are confined to an outdoor space that’s less than an acre in size and in a climate where, for over half of each year, they have to spend the majority of each day locked inside a barn whose stalls are comparatively smaller than the arm span of an average adult.

Why? “Conservation,” the Zoo says. And with an elephant being killed in the wild every fifteen minutes for its ivory, at first blush it sounds like a reasonable argument. But it’s one that holds little truth when examined closer. Why really, then? The long history of prestige associated with zoos exhibiting elephants and the gate receipts those elephants bring with them – especially if there are baby calves involved.

Chai, one of the Zoo’s two Asian Elephants (Watoto being African), was artificially inseminated at least 112 times without success in an attempt to impregnate her and provide the Zoo with a baby elephant and the visitor money that would follow. Yes, 112 times. Previous to that Chai had given birth to a female calf named Hansa through natural breeding – if shipping her off to distant Dickerson Park Zoo where she was beaten by both her handlers and other elephants there, returning to Seattle weighing 1,300 pounds less as a result, is considered “natural.” But she did come back pregnant.

Chai’s offspring, Hansa, whose birth was celebrated by the Zoo, would die a horrible death from EEHV at less than seven years of age. EEHV is a type of herpes that can be exceptionally fatal in young elephants. It’s not definitively known if Hansa contracted the virus from her mother while Chai was at Dickerson, or from Watoto, who in 2008 tested positive for the same variant of the virus that killed Hansa (EEHV3), but what is known is that Woodland Park Zoo was well aware of the outbreak of herpes in elephants at Dickerson Park Zoo and sent Chai there knowing she would be exposed and could possibly contract the fatal virus. “It was decided that the plusses (a baby elephant) outweighed the negatives,” the Zoo’s Elephant Management Committee said in meeting minutes from May of 1998.

Woodland Park Zoo’s failed attempts at artificially inseminating Chai, along with the welfare of elephants in zoo captivity in general, was brought to widespread attention by Seattle Times reporter Michael Berens’ investigative series Glamour Beasts: The Dark Side of Elephant Captivity. That excellent exposé was followed by a public outcry over the treatment of Watoto, Bamboo, and Chai, and the reasons why we have elephants in zoos to begin with, which led Woodland Park Zoo to create a self-appointed task force charged with investigating itself and whose majority unsurprisingly found that the Zoo’s exhibit, its elephant conservation work, and the health of the elephants themselves on the whole was “excellent.”

The front page reporting by The Seattle Times, the subsequent coverage from other media outlets on these elephants and the broader issues of captivity and breeding, the community pressure and protest – none of it would have been possible without the tireless ground work first laid by Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants and everyone else involved in, or standing alongside, their cause. And it’s because of their continued work and commitment to seeing Watoto, Bamboo, and Chai retired to a sanctuary that the Zoo, according to Berens’ articles, decided to label Alyne, Nancy, and any other critics of elephants in captivity as “extremists.”

I first met Nancy and Alyne during last year’s Task Force meetings. On the heels of Woodland Park Zoo announcing a five-year plan to add to its elephant herd without increasing or substantially modifying its current exhibit for the better, and with Alyne having recently filed a lawsuit against the Zoo to force them to open up their records to public scrutiny, I sat down with these two wonderful ladies to discuss their work, their passions, and why it is that everyone but zoos and aquariums seem to understand that keeping sentient animals like elephants, orcas, and dolphins captive is inhumane and anything but conservation.

For the record, Alyne and Nancy, along with Dougal and Jimmy, are about as sweet as they come.

Extremists, indeed.

Please share with us a little about yourselves.

Alyne Fortgang: I met Nancy when we were working together on a re-election campaign for a city council member, and it developed from there. We just became friendly. [To Nancy] Do you know how we both got started with elephants? I don’t recall, actually.

Nancy Pennington: The Northwest Animal Rights Network had started a campaign to get elephants out of the Zoo, and I think we both jumped in at about the same time.

Alyne: That’s right, now I recall. It was in 2005 because Bamboo, one of the elephants at Woodland Park Zoo, was sent to Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma because she was considered unmanageable and aggressive, and she didn’t get along with baby Hansa. So they sent Bamboo to Tacoma, and then nine months later they decided that she didn’t integrate down there with their elephants and they brought her back to Seattle.

About that time NARN started a campaign to have Bamboo sent to a sanctuary instead of bringing her back to Seattle, and I think that’s when Nancy and I hooked up. Ultimately, the Zoo did what they wanted to do: They brought Bamboo back, even though she still didn’t get along with Hansa or Watoto. So the campaign sort of morphed from the Free Bamboo campaign to Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, in which we asked for the release of all the elephants to a sanctuary.

Why elephants? What are your first memories of them and why have they made such a lasting impression on you?

Nancy: I got interested because of Tyke, an elephant that was killed in Hawaii [in 1994]. They say that Tyke ran “amok.” She’d had enough, and I thought what happened to her was so horrendous. I’ll never recover from seeing the footage of this poor elephant – this dignified, wonderful beast with a silly little hat on – and I thought that I just want to do something to help circus and zoo elephants.

[During a performance in Honolulu, Tyke killed her trainer Allen Campbell, who worked for a time at Woodland Park Zoo, and injured two others. The elephant then escaped from the arena for almost a half-hour before she was shot dead by 86 bullets from local law enforcement. Tyke had previously run away twice before and, according to the USDA, while she was with the Tarzan Zerbini Circus her “elephant handler was observed beating the single-tusk African elephant in public to the point [where] the elephant was screaming and bending down on three legs to avoid being hit. Even when the handler walked by the elephant after this, the elephant screamed and veered away, demonstrating fear from his presence.” Allen Campbell was also known for abusing animals, and an autopsy revealed that he had cocaine and alcohol in his bloodstream at the time he was killed by Tyke.]

Alyne: Woodland Park Zoo hired Allen Campbell in the late ’80s to early ’90s. That was a really dark period at the Zoo, because you know the animals were being beaten. There’s no questions that [Watoto, Bamboo, Chai] were beaten. They were chained sixteen hours a day to the floor, so they weren’t able to move.

Alyne, what was your first introduction to elephants?

Was there an official date when Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants came into being, or did it just happen organically after realizing that you were the spearhead for this advocacy work?

Nancy: It stepped up a lot when Hansa died. Hansa was a baby elephant at Woodland Park Zoo who died a horrible death. We had a demonstration after that at the Zoo’s big “Jungle Party” fundraiser, and a lot of people came because everybody was upset about Hansa dying. We didn’t realize that it was inevitable that Hansa would die because she had herpes. Woodland Park Zoo knew it was a risk that [Chai, Hansa’s mother] would come back with herpes from being bred.

Alyne: The risk was that Chai would bring the herpes virus back from Dickerson Park Zoo, where she had been sent to be bred, but there were a number of opportunities for Hansa to get the herpes virus. We even have a memo [from Woodland Park Zoo] stating that [the Zoo] knew Chai could come back and bring the herpes virus back with her to the herd, and…

Nancy: That it was worth the risk.

Alyne: The memo said it was worth the risk. When the newspapers reported that Hansa died “peacefully” at her mother’s feet, nothing could be further from the truth. She died a horrifically painful, grueling, horrible death in which the virus attacked her major organs and caused massive hemorrhaging throughout her body. It was just horrible.

The thought that Woodland Park Zoo would continue to artificially inseminate Chai so she could have another calf, in this environment, is unconscionable. It’s just unconscionable. But they did, and as was reported by The Seattle Times, Chai was artificially inseminated 112 times.

When you visit Watoto, Bamboo, and Chai at Woodland Park Zoo, what story does their behavior tell you? What do you see when you look at them?

Especially when, for over half the year, they’re locked away in tiny stalls in the exhibit’s barn for the vast majority of the day because of how unsuited elephants are to the cold, damp climate here.

Nancy: They’re locked up at night sixteen to seventeen hours a night, and they only sleep four hours a night. So they’re in these sterile cages the rest of the time, awake with nothing to do and nothing to see.

Alyne: That’s the shame of having elephants in Seattle, specifically. We are in a cold climate, and it’s not only that it’s cold but it’s also wet, and it’s bad for their feet. So they are locked up pretty much beginning October 1st straight through to about May 1st. It’s about seven months. For over half of the year they’re locked up in a sterile cage-like stall.

One of the elephants, either Bamboo or Watoto because they’re aggressive towards each other, one of them is locked up in solitary confinement. And these are social animals. It’s just so sad what we’re doing to them.

It’s gotten to the point where the Zoo can no longer ignore the science of elephants, and they can’t ignore public opinion. And at this point, they can no longer ignore the media. The time has come for the Zoo to finally take care of the problem and let the elephants go.

What is it that zoos don’t understand about captive elephants, and why is it inhumane to keep animals like elephants on display in an exhibit?

Why do you think it is that the public has a hard time seeing past the facades that zoos, aquariums, and other similar places have created about the animals in their care, and why they claim it’s important to have these exhibits?

Alyne: I think the zoo industry has done a very good job of assuaging people’s guilt about having animals in captivity by saying “we need animals here for conservation reasons.”

The Zoo had a campaign last summer where buses and billboards had a picture on it that said: “See. Save.” The Zoo would have us believe that if you see an animal that you’re going to go home and immediately open your checkbook to write a check for conservation, but there’s not been a single scientific study that has ever shown this to be the case. Times are changing and people are seeing through this, and the zoo industry will eventually have to change. They will have to change.

Nancy: They also like to fall back on education and say that people are educated only when they see a live animal, which is not true because these animals are nothing like they are in the wild. I just think they’re a mere shell of what the real animal is.

The Zoo drags school children through constantly, giving them misinformation, which Alyne and I have stood and listened to.

Alyne: I was just at the zoo last week and a mother was saying, “Look at the elephant! He’s tap dancing!” I turned to her and said, “That’s actually not tap dancing; it’s stereotypical behavior.” She asked me what that was and I explained. People don’t realize that what they’re seeing is suffering, just displayed right in front of their very eyes. Sometimes you just can’t fault them; people just don’t realize what they’re seeing in front of them. And the Zoo will certainly not point that out.

The point is: What you see when you’re looking at an elephant in a zoo is nothing what an elephant’s really like.

You’ll never see the three elephants at Woodland Park Zoo touching each other, or rubbing or leaning against each other, or touching each other’s faces. You never see that normal behavior, because these three elephants are not bonded; even though they’re social animals they’re just not bonded and they just don’t care for each other. They choose to be socially isolated, which is so abnormal for an elephant. That’s why going to a sanctuary would give them the opportunity to meet other elephants and bond with someone of their choosing, not someone they’ve artificially been stuck with.

Nancy: They also have the choice of avoiding animals that they don’t want to be with. They have all kinds of choices at a sanctuary. They can choose to go out of the barn, into the barn, wallow in mud… which I keep saying.

Alyne: Right now on Facebook there’s an incredible video of Thika, who just came to the PAWS sanctuary in San Andreas, California. She was digging mud and throwing mud all over, and by the time the video’s over she looks like a statue of mud. She doesn’t even look real because her entire body is covered in mud. And that’s the first time she’s ever done that in her life. A middle-aged elephant who, for the very first time in her life, has been in a mud wallow, and our elephants have never been.

Nancy: If Watoto, Bamboo, and Chai could be in a more natural situation, it would be so wonderful. They’re getting old, and if they could go to a sanctuary and see what it’s like to walk on real grass, and have some choices, and be in a climate that is conducive to their health, it’d be so wonderful. But the Zoo stubbornly refuses to let them go.

Woodland Park Zoo would say that they’re doing everything they can to provide the best care for their elephants and, in fact, that they’re so concerned about them that on the back of public pressure last year they convened a task force to look into the situation with Watoto, Bamboo, and Chai. Alyne, I know that they invited you to speak and I’m curious as to why you turned down their offer?

Alyne: Originally I was going to speak, but they wanted me to speak within three days of being asked to. I’d been out of town and I didn’t have time to prepare, so I said that I’d speak at the next meeting. They said, “No, no, no. We want you to speak at this meeting,” and I said that I’m just not prepared.

In the interim we had been asking the Task Force to have elephant experts from outside the zoo industry present opinions and make presentations. There were fourteen experts that we asked them to consider and one of them was Dr. Phil Ensley, who had been an elephant veterinarian for almost thirty years at the San Diego Zoo. We said, “Look, you don’t have a single elephant veterinarian who is assessing the health of the elephants. Why not invite Dr. Ensley to make an assessment?” The Task Force said “no.” So we made it a condition: We will speak, but on the condition that Dr. Phil Ensley is invited to examine the elephants. And they refused.

It’s quite clear that the Task Force was convened for one reason, and that was to get the results that the Zoo wanted. Which was that the elephants stay, their numbers are increased, and they’re bred to get more babies. It was a set up. The Task Force was set up to come out with those results.

Were you surprised by the Zoo’s recent announcement regarding their five-year plan for its elephant exhibit, and what does that announcement mean for Watoto, Bamboo, Chai, as well as for your cause?

Alyne: The five-year plan was a complete disappointment. Not unexpected, but a horrible disappointment. The plan is that Watoto will be sent to another zoo. If it’s the Oakland Zoo, or the North Carolina Zoo, she will have a better quality of life. There’s no question about that. It will be the first time in her life that she’ll be with other African elephants. But for the other two, Bamboo and Chai, it’s just a horrible time in which they will continue to suffer and die at Woodland Park Zoo. The five-year plan calls for bringing in an elephant who probably will not be of breeding age, followed by an elephant that will be of breeding age and that will, hopefully for them, provide the Zoo with a baby.

We’re talking five elephants in the same space where three elephants live now and it’s not adequate. The climate will still be unsuitable. Everything about this plan is just wrong. It will create more suffering, goes against science, goes against what Seattle wants, and I think the Zoo is shooting themselves in the foot. This is not going to go over well.

Actress and elephant activist Lily Tomlin with Alyne and Nancy. (Photo courtesy FoWPZE.)

Actress and elephant activist Lily Tomlin with Alyne and Nancy. (Photo courtesy FoWPZE.)

The Zoo’s five-year plan is based on the results of the Task Force report [PDF]. Of course, the Zoo hand-picked the Task Force, and not only did they hand-pick everybody on it, five of them worked or still work on the Zoo’s Board of Directors. The person who selected the health sub-panel advising the Task Force [Dr. Bryan Slinker] was the person who had previously written an op-ed in The Seattle Times saying that the elephants were healthy and didn’t have foot problems, and that they should stay at the Zoo. If he’d read the medical reports he would’ve seen that all three of the elephants do have foot problems.

The elephants didn’t stand a chance of having a fair hearing from the Task Force, and that’s exactly what the Zoo wanted. What the Zoo wanted, they got. And that is why the five-year plan is exactly what it is. It was rigged. The Task Force was rigged to get the results that the Zoo desired.

Do you think the public-at-large were aware of the make-up of the Task Force?

Nancy: Every time there’s been anything in the newspaper about the Task Force, the comments have always been, “Well yeah, what did you expect?”

Alyne: We like to invoke the metaphor of the “fox guarding the henhouse,” because that was exactly what was going on. People are not stupid – I think they know. I think what’s coming out of this whole issue with the elephants, and the fact that the Zoo refuses to tell tax payers how they spend their money, is this arrogance on the Zoo’s part that they can act with impunity, and I think tax payers are going to think twice about how much money they want to give the Zoo.

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants commissioned a study last year which, among other findings, showed that a strong majority of Seattle residents wanted to see these elephants retired to a sanctuary. How do you bridge the gap between that kind of strong public opinion and getting both the city and the Zoo to take measurable action in a way that is in the best interests of the elephants rather than the best interests of those institutions’ respective public images?

Alyne: That survey was very telling because it really dispelled a lot of the things that the Zoo holds dear, like that you have to see an elephant in order to conserve elephants or learn about elephants. Ninety percent of the respondents were registered Seattle voters, so these are people who the city council needs to listen to.

We asked the question, “Do you know about the poaching of elephants for their ivory tusks?” Ninety-seven percent of the respondents said that they knew about poaching. Then we asked the open-ended question, “Where did you learn about this crisis?” No one answered Woodland Park Zoo, which would’ve been the obvious answer if it were true. People answered “the press,” “the media,” “the newspaper,” “school” – but not the Zoo. So, the very reason the Zoo gives for keeping elephants is not true. It’s just simply not true.

This is an important fact to get in front of the city council, and we will. We’re making appointments to meet with them.

Just prior to the Zoo releasing their five-year plan you filed a lawsuit against them “seeking a court order declaring that the Woodland Park Zoological Society be made subject to Washington State’s Public Records Act.” What was the purpose of the lawsuit, why is it important, and why now?

Alyne: Over the past eight years we’ve been filing public disclosure requests to learn basic things about the Zoo’s elephant program, one of the most obvious of which is “what is the cost to keep elephants at Woodland Park Zoo?” The Zoo repeatedly told us that they didn’t keep records on what it cost to keep the elephants there. It just seemed incredible that for the most expensive animal in their care that number is unknown to them. They want bring in more elephants to breed and they can’t budget for it because they don’t know what it costs?

We knew that they just didn’t want to tell us. The questions kept coming and they kept saying, “We don’t have to tell you this because we’re a private non-profit,” and it just didn’t seem right that they take tens of millions of dollars of tax payer money and not have to tell the tax payers what they do with the money, or the specifics of how they care for the elephants.

After years of frustration of being told that we didn’t need to know these things, we decided to sue.

Nancy: First they said they didn’t know how much the elephants cost, but they knew to the penny how much their Nocturnal House cost because they shut it down. We suggested at the time that if they’d send the elephants to a sanctuary the money that they would save would keep the Nocturnal House open, and a lot of Seattle residents wanted the Nocturnal House kept open.

To your knowledge, is this the first time they’ve been sued under the State’s Public Records Act?

Alyne: Yes, I think this is the first time.

What’s the Zoo’s response been?

Alyne: They’re fighting it. They didn’t move to dismiss, they’re fighting it. We’re very hopeful that we’re going to prevail and that going forward the Zoo will have to reveal to tax payers what they’re doing with the money, how they’re caring for the animals, and what it costs to do the different things that they do. They artificially inseminated Chai 112 times. What did that cost? What did it cost to do something that the public is against?

Between the elephants and the secrecy, this is all hurting their reputation; and when the Zoo’s reputation is hurt the amount of money donor’s will give goes down, and it’s just not good for them.

What would you say to those who question your motives? Have you ever been or ever felt harassed, either by the zoo or by those who take issue with your positions or your advocacy work?

Do you think the Zoo’s stance is, at least in part, is due to pressure from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums?

Nancy: Yes. The AZA is a trade organization who has the best financial interests of zoos as their prime motive.

Alyne: The AZA controls the movement of animals, which zoo gets what animals, and the COO of Woodland Park Zoo, Bruce Bohmke, is on the [AZA’s] Species Survival Plan, which is a fancy name for breeding animals to keep the zoos stocked. He made the comment that he might not go to a zoo if it didn’t have elephants.

Therein lies the mindset that zoos who are “real zoos” have elephants, and zoos that don’t aren’t so much a complete zoo.

Nancy: The AZA also punishes zoos. They punished the Detroit Zoo when they released their elephants.

The Toronto Zoo as well. Which was interesting, because I heard directly from AZA Executive Director Kristin Vehrs that the reason that zoo’s accreditation was revoked wasn’t because the City of Toronto overwhelmingly decided that the zoo wasn’t taking good care of its elephants and so voted to send them to sanctuary at PAWS, but because it wasn’t the zoo itself that made the recommendation. She called it an “issue of governance” with Toronto Zoo’s Board of Directors, implying that a price had to be paid for losing their elephants, regardless if the city’s decision was right or wrong with respect to those elephants’ health and welfare.

Alyne: Yes, they lost their accreditation for two years. It’s just a slap on the wrist and they’ll get it right back, and it’s meant to let the zoos know that they need to stay in line.

Going back to your earlier comments about being labeled as “extremists” who kick people in the shins and steal their lunch money: Does it make you giggle, even just a little, to have two seemingly mild-mannered ladies be such a thorn in the side of the Zoo and the City?

Then Michael Berens’ articles on elephants in captivity came out…

Alyne: Yes, then The Seattle Times came out with their December 2012 story that really turned the zoo industry upside-down. Those two front page articles were republished throughout the country pretty much. It really made a huge difference, and from that point forward we’ve seen Scientific American come out with articles about how wrong it is to keep captive elephants in zoos, and then with Blackfish coming out about orcas in captivity.

And, of course, SeaWorld being an organization that’s accredited under the AZA as well.

Nancy: Yes.

What does success look like for you, for the elephants, and for the cause of educating people about animals in captivity?

Alyne: It’s really quite straightforward. The elephants get retired to a sanctuary and in place of the elephant exhibit is a non-live exhibit, however the Zoo wants to do it. There can be animatronic elephants, there can be hologram elephants, there can be any number of creative ways. Seattle is perfectly positioned as a high tech hub to put together a cool, exciting, and educational exhibit that will have people opening up their checkbooks to donate to conservation, as opposed to leaving the current elephant exhibit and maybe not feeling quite so happy about what they just saw.

What have been your proudest accomplishments?

Nancy: I worked on a couple of animal initiatives in the past that I felt were very important: an initiative that passed to ban trapping, and an initiative to ban hound hunting and bear baiting. Bear baiting being where they put out Twinkies and other goodies all summer at a site, then when bear season opens they blast away at the bears. We got that banned, and that was a highlight. Those initiatives were probably my proudest moments.

Years ago I campaigned to get a monkey out of a dentist’s office, and unfortunately I failed but not for a lack of trying. A dentist had a monkey in a Plexiglas box on his wall, and I tried desperately hard to get this monkey released. Nobody would listen, and so on the Fourth of July I locked myself in a cage to protest it. Nothing worked, and the poor monkey died.

I’ve also done some fostering of dogs, and I’m proud of that.

Alyne: Most of my experience in animal welfare has been just with the elephants. I was previously very involved with my business, which I sold, and is what gives me the ability to do what I do now and fund what I do now.

There have been milestones in the elephant campaign that have been good. A lot of it is the media coming around, which has taken a lot of work. A lot of work, a lot of press releases, a lot of calling and meeting with people to try to open their eyes to see the cruelty inherent in keeping elephants in captivity. That’s been a really proud accomplishment, having the media finally accepting that it’s cruel to keep elephants in captivity.

Unfortunately, the elephants are still in the Zoo, so we’re not there yet. But we’re getting closer.

Nancy: We have awareness. Things have changed a whole lot since we began.

Alyne: Yes. And people’s attitudes have changed. It’s been very fulfilling to bring up to someone what you do and hear them say, “Oh yeah, that’s terrible!” Because it wasn’t that way just a few years ago. People have become enlightened; not only from our work but just through basic knowledge about elephants, and the wonderful shows on TV, National Geographic, and all the different places that are bringing awareness about the nature of elephants.

Nancy: When we first began we got a lot of, “But how are my children ever going to see a live elephant? Not all of us can afford to go to Africa!” We don’t hear that anymore.

Alyne: No, not so much anymore. I think people understand that the tradeoff of not seeing an elephant is better for our humanity than caging them.

What is one thing everyone, including Woodland Park Zoo, should know about elephants?

What’s one thing everybody can do, no matter who they are or where they are, to help with this cause?

Alyne: One thing everybody can is write the Seattle City Council and Mayor. Ultimately, because the Zoo does own the elephants, it is their decision what happens with them. However, the city council and the mayor hold the purse strings and the millions of tax payer dollars that flow to the Zoo. What people can do now is that they can go to our website, click on You Can Help, and there are the email addresses for all the council members and the mayor. Just one line, even a subject line saying: “Retire the elephants to a sanctuary.” That’s all it takes. It’s your vote that the elephants don’t belong here anymore. One line.

Some of the letters people have written have been forwarded to me, and they are so heartfelt and so insightful, and if the council reads these letters I just don’t understand how they can’t start putting pressure on the Zoo to make the right decision for the elephants.

That’s the end of my list of easy questions. I just have one tough question remaining, and it’s the same question for each of you. How would you describe the other person?

Nancy: Alyne is my hero! She is so dedicated, and without her none of this would have happened – the stories in The Times, none of this. She’s completely dedicated, this is her passion, and she’s a lot of fun.

Alyne: Well, Nancy’s my inspiration from the moment I met her. She’s just made such an impression on me as my mentor towards being more compassionate with animals, and has been the inspiration that has kept me going. For that I’m very grateful; she has really enriched my life.

Edited to highlight the uncertainty of whether Hansa contracted herpes from Chai, who was exposed to the deadly virus while at Dickerson Park Zoo, or if she contracted it from Watoto, who later tested positive for the same variant of the virus that killed Hansa.

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  • Bob Mogulnicki

    Hi
    this is to the Author – as well as the 2 lady’s that the only answer they state over and over is “send them to Paws or Tenns” –
    1- To the Author –
    HOW In this world could you call this a fair and Balanced interview ?
    these 2 woman state SEVERAL times 1 answer / YET you REFUSE to ask about the pros and CONS of ” Send them to a sanctuary ! ”
    why you refuse to even entertain the notion to investigate the sanctuaries and their huge issues that are happening in Cali & Tenns ?
    You refuse to even bring up the subject of Elephant TB and how rampant it is at our two elephant sanctuaries that these ladies want all the elephants transferred to

    not one time in your article did you even bring up the subject of pros and cons at these so-called sanctuaries- nor did you ask of any alternatives that are out there.
    The ladies complain about the nontransparent aspects of these elephant programs however you will find the exact same things even worse app pause and TENNS ?
    2- you flat out refused to include past transfer issues to the sanctuaries- such as the most recent one that delivered three African from Canada all the way to California- in the continued secrecy around those three elephants and how they are doing today.
    as for TeNN – you refused to cover Caro Buckley and her board of directors kicking her out of her own sanctuary as well as allowing an elephant to die under a tent erected in 90° summer h eat

    It is clear that without a follow-up story -you as the author has your own agenda – that clearly coincides with these two uneducated ladies in regards to our sanctuaries. nor did you even touch base with the outlandish new across-the-board policy from FC to PC for all elephants. this is truly uncalled for and detrimental to elephants that have been successful FC elephants for 40+ years. they want to lock them behind bars and and say the standard of care is going to be the same that is not true. please verse yourself at the following in regards to bowl elephants and our sanctuaries maybe the foothills of California are not the best place.Start educating from here- .

    how can you justify sending any elephants to the sanctuaries. it’s clear and factual that elephants do better on the road then they do at the sanctuaries or death traps!
    now l et’s see how fair and balanced we can provide information to people – and let them make their minds up for themselves without all of the drama next with the same old 40 to 50 year old information. these ladies should put their attention on the tens of thousands of Hollings as well as poaching’s that happen yearly

    • Mr. Mogulnicki,

      I’ve combined your four comments into one and I’ve forwarded them in their entirety to Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants should they choose to respond, either here or to you directly.

      This interview with FoWPZE’s co-founders is part of our “profiles” series focusing on people who’ve inspired us. They are not “investigative” articles meant to appease people like you who may/not take issue with either our subjects or their work — all things that should be obvious to our readers but something you seem to have missed.

      To that end, my only responsibility is to myself and my subjects. Not to you, your perception of what “fair and balanced” is or should be, or anyone else’s opinion of the same. Even if this were a hard news piece it’s plainly obvious it would make no difference to you as, parsing through your mostly illegible and cogent-lacking comments, your interest here lies not in addressing facts but in perpetuating misinformation, mistruth, and your own personal agenda.

      Tuberculosis is indeed a huge concern, regardless if elephants in sanctuaries contract it while there or if, as in most cases, that TB is brought into a sanctuary by elephants from zoos and circuses who’ve finally been retired from a life of performing and being beaten for public amusement and private profit. I’m sure you’d agree that zoos and circuses are ground zero for where this problem has originated and why it continues to be so problematic.

      The transfer of the elephants from Toronto Zoo to PAWS was done quite publicly; both in the years-long legal conversations between the city and zoo leading up to the elephants’ departure to PAWS, and how publicly their actual transport was covered and shared worldwide. PAWS does an excellent job of frequently updating the public on how the elephants in their care are doing, as does The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. I’d encourage you to contact both sanctuaries directly if you are dissatisfied with how they’re run.

      And, of course, everyone should be focused on the plight of elephants in the wild. But that doesn’t mean concurrent work to better the welfare of elephants in domestic captivity shouldn’t happen, or that those who claim that elephants in captivity is itself an act of conservation should be given any merit. It is possible to chew gum and walk at the same time.

      I am very proud of the work Alyne and Nancy have accomplished with Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, and unequivocally support them. Science is on their side, public opinion is on their side, and the facts are on their side. If you would like to argue against those things you’ll have to do it elsewhere — this is not the place for it.

  • Mark Gleave

    I finally caught up with this superb profile. Alyne and Nancy are an absolute inspiration and I wish them every success in all they do for animal welfare. Animal lovers everywhere owe them a huge debt of gratitude. Thank you!

  • alyne16

    Yes, there are elephants who has tested positive for TB at each of the
    sanctuaries that Mogulnicki mentioned and they are in quarantine; on 300 acres at The Elephant Sanctuary in TN and on 40 acres at PAWS.

    Let’s contrast that with a couple of zoos: Woodland Park Zoo sent Sri
    to the St. Louis Zoo (SLZ) in 2002. Two years earlier, an elephant named Carolyn died and her necropsy showed she had TB.

    Nice play, Woodland Park Zoo. Donna, one one of the elephants at SLZ is being treated for TB . There are 8 elephants at SLZ who have been exposed to TB. They are on 1.25 acres with no place to quarantine them and they are still breeding. Shameful. The Oregon Zoo is treating three elephants for TB – again no place for quarantine. Gee, I wonder if they will continue breeding?

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