Open Letter to King County Councilmember Larry Phillips

No More Dead Elephants - Sanctuary Now

No More Dead Elephants – Sanctuary Now

Dear Councilmember Phillips,

Thank you for your reply to my correspondence urging City and County officials to use their political and financial influence to ensure that Bamboo and Chai are sent to a sanctuary where they can roam and be free after a lifetime of physical and mental abuse, and not sent to another zoo where they will continue to suffer for public amusement and private profit.

While I realize that being a member of both the King County Council and Woodland Park Zoo’s Board of Directors puts you in a position that some might consider to be a conflict of interest when it comes to determining the financial backing and other resources the Council affords the Zoo on taxpayers’ behalf, I am surprised and somewhat taken aback that your response to the community’s concern about Bamboo and Chai would seem to be taken almost verbatim from the Zoo’s press releases; statements which dismiss those who advocate for sending Bamboo and Chai to sanctuary, and the content of which is simply untrue when looked at with a critical eye and a minimal amount of research.

The best rebuttal to Woodland Park Zoo’s unscientific claims comes from its own Task Force, whose comments from their final report (PDF) I’ve included below. While the poaching of wild elephants is indeed of great concern for a number of legitimate reasons, there is little evidence to suggest that enslaving a sentient species does anything of merit to help save their wild counterparts. As Dame Daphne Sheldrick – someone with over fifty years of hands-on experience rescuing elephants in the wild – so aptly put it: “What you are seeing in a zoo is not an elephant. What you are seeing is a tragedy.” Indeed.

Chai enjoying some of the Zoo's "new toys and experiences," "interesting space," and "lots of healthy food." Sorry, not really.

Chai enjoying some of the Zoo’s “new toys and experiences,” “interesting space,” and “lots of healthy food.” Sorry, not really.

As for Woodland Park Zoo and the Association of Zoos and Aquarium’s “commitment to animal health, welfare, and conservation,” I would like to point out that in the past the by-the-industry-for-the-industry AZA has overseen and codified the “animal health, welfare, and conservation” of circus organizations such as Have Trunk Will Travel. As you might recall, HTWT is best known in the Pacific Northwest for the public furor they raised when it was found they had ownership rights to a newborn elephant calf at the Oregon Zoo, as well as several other yet-to-be born elephants there – an ownership agreement allowed under the AZA.

Another organization which, like Woodland Park Zoo, boasts AZA accreditation is SeaWorld. I think you would agree that SeaWorld’s abuse and ill treatment of one of the Pacific Northwest’s most iconic animals (Orcinus orca) is something no person or political body with any conscience or any sense of welfare should knowingly support. Yet we treat our elephants no differently: money making entertainment propped up on a thin guise of conservation. If zoo visitors are entertained by the presence of these magnificent animals, displayed in exhibits that are deleterious to their health and do nothing to replace, much less replicate, the social and environmental make up they would otherwise know in the wild, it must be conservation, correct? We enslave them to show how we must save them? There is something terribly wrong with that picture.

Councilmember Phillips, don’t let Seattle and King County be known as the Blackfish for elephants. Now is the time to show leadership. Science is behind sanctuary and the majority of the voters you represent are as well. Just like SeaWorld, all the Zoo and the AZA can do is refer to their own deceptive and self-serving talking points. I implore you to use your position as both a councilmember and as a member of Woodland Park Zoo’s Board of Directors to ensure that Bamboo and Chai are sent to sanctuary at either the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in California, or The Elephant Sanctuary (TES) in Tennessee – not another zoo where they will be put on display, subject to being forcibly bred (as Chai was over 112 times), beaten with bullhooks (which many AZA-accredited zoos still use), or shipped at any time to another zoo or AZA-accredited partner like the aforementioned Have Trunk Will Travel.

They’ve suffered enough. Please, sanctuary now.

Thank you for your commitment to this issue and for working to ensure sanctuary for Bamboo and Chai. I look forward to hearing updates from the council regarding your advocacy for these wonderful elephants.

Constituent and Concerned Citizen,
Craig Young
Seattle, WA

Excerpt From Woodland Park Zoo’s Elephant Task Force’s Final Report


  • 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 zoovisits 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.

———- Original message ———-
From: <>
Date: Thu, Dec 18, 2014 at 9:54 AM
Subject: Woodland Park Zoo Elephants

Dear Mr. Young,

Thank you for your interest and concern about the elephants at the Woodland Park Zoo. I share your concern for these animals and your interest in ensuring that they are safe, happy, and healthy.

On November 19, 2014, the Woodland Park Zoo announced that it will phase out its on-site elephant program and continue to move forward with its mission of saving animals and their habitats through conservation leadership.

Bamboo and Chai will be relocated together to an Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) accredited facility that shares Woodland Park Zoo’s commitment to animal health, welfare, and conservation through education, and provides viewing access to the animals. A new home has not yet been identified, but we expect them to move in 2015. This move will allow Bamboo and Chai to continue living in a social, healthy, multi-animal herd.

As you know, elephants worldwide are threatened due to demand for their ivory. Growing human populations and the resulting loss of habitat is another great threat to elephants. The zoo will continue its commitment to elephant welfare and conservation without elephants on site. The zoo will continue its support of elephant conservation partners in Borneo and Tanzania. Further, the zoo will continue playing a key role with the 96 Elephants campaign, named for the number of African elephants currently gunned down each day by poachers. Finally, the zoo is partnering with Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium on securing ivory ban legislation in Washington State.

The Woodland Park Zoo Board remains committed to sustaining wild elephant populations into the future, and acknowledges the need to do a better job locally and internationally of communicating their needs and ensuring their survival through research, education, and conservation efforts.

Thank you again for contacting me about this important issue. I appreciate your advocacy and empathy for the Woodland Park Zoo elephants. I will continue to monitor this issue.


Larry Phillips, Chair
Metropolitan King County Council, District Four
King County Courthouse
516 Third Avenue, Room 1200
Seattle, WA 98104-3272

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