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Heartfelt plea to Portland Metro Council in Watoto’s memory

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Action Alert: Show City Council your commitment to retiring the two surviving elephants

Elephant advocates at City Council

Elephant advocates at a previous City Council

What: A showing of commitment at the FULL Council meeting. Kids are encouraged to come.

When: Monday, September 22, at 1:30pm

Where: Seattle City Hall, 600 4th Ave, Seattle, WA 98104

Meet at 1:30pm in front of City Hall at the 4th and Cherry entrance. We will head up to the City Hall chambers on the second floor at 1:45pm to attend the 2pm City Council meeting.

FREE: t-shirts provided with the message: Seattle ♥ Elephants ♥ Sanctuary

Please reply to let us know you if you will be wearing an orange t-shirt from a previous event or if we need to order one for you.

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Zoo elephants: By penning them up, zoo is acting against nature

A great letter to the editor in the Seattle Times from Katy Flynn of Kent.

Bravo to Judy Nicastro for her brilliant opinion piece advocating sanctuary for the remaining Woodland Park Zoo elephants, Chai and Bamboo [“Political leadership for the elephants,” Opinion, Sept. 4].

To hear the news Watoto had been euthanized was as shocking as it was heartbreaking. Elephants are sentient beings who deserve more space than the Woodland Park Zoo offers.

As Watoto has shown us, keeping huge land mammals in woefully small enclosures is perilous and obviously against their nature. This is done in the interest of those who view elephants as living conservation symbols at best, and as entertainers at worst.

In reporting Watoto’s death, Michael J. Berens pointed out “Watoto had no known medical problems.”

The drumbeat gets ever louder. Are Seattle’s leaders listening?

Katy Flynn, Kent

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The passing of Watoto

Watoto

Watoto

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants is profoundly shocked and saddened by the passing of Watoto. She is now at peace. No more solitary confinement for up to 17 hours in a barren cage. No more lock-up in a tiny section of a yard. No more daily flushing of the socket where she lost her tusk from an incident in the elephant restraining device. No more pain from lameness, arthritis, colic, and painful skin problems.

At 45 years old, Watoto should have been in the prime of her life, still having calves. Sadly, confinement in a zoo causes elephants to die young. Over half of the 76 elephants who have died in AZA-accredited facilities since 2000 never reached the age of 40. According to National Geographic, an African elephant’s natural lifespan is up to 70 years old.

We hope Woodland Park Zoo’s Board and Management will reflect upon Watoto’s early death and make the decision to allow the two surviving elephants to retire to a sanctuary. Anything less diminishes our humanity. R.I.P. Watoto.

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Thoughts from David Hancocks, former Director of Woodland Park Zoo, 1976 – 1998

“The City’s elected officials have the power and the moral authority to make decisions….like the City Council of Toronto, they can send the elephants to a home where they will find new freedoms, and deep contentment.”

A general feeling among former Woodland Park Zoo staff members I’ve contacted regarding Watoto’s death can be characterized as a sense not only of sadness at her passing, but also of the unhappy life she had.

Like every other zoo elephant, Watoto should never have been abducted from her mother, and never suffered the pain and indignities that is so common among zoo elephants. We can only be grateful she has been spared the anxiety of having to move to another zoo​​, as WPZ had intended, although it is true there are other zoos who could have offered her better conditions than at WPZ.

It is a matter of extreme unhappiness for me to have to say such a thing about WPZ. At one time the Humane Society of the United States gave WPZ its highest ranking. Today, it is listed as one of the worst for elephant care by Animal Welfare organizations.

It was always deeply frustrating​ when I served as Director of WPZ ​that I was thwarted by City Hall to search for a better home for the elephants. My suggestion in the early 1970s to move them to a place with more space and better climate was met with official and public hostility. I did quietly insure there was no elephant exhibit in the Zoo’s Long Range Plan, adopted by City Council in 1976, in the hope that during the life of the Plan the public’s attitude would shift, and elephants could enjoy a better home. But after eight years I resigned, frustrated at not being able to make progress on this issue.

Since then, Elephant Sanctuaries have appeared in America. They are models of care, expertise, affection and respect. They have introduced greatly improved methods of management and care. Zoos have belatedly adopted some of these progressive changes, though few have appeared at WPZ. Watoto died before she experienced one day of free choice and the company of her own kind in such a Sanctuary.

However, the opportunity for Bamboo and Chai to experience this level of freedom and care still exists. Seattle should honor the life and death of Watoto by continuing and intensifying the fight to send all the WPZ elephants to Sanctuary: to a home where they will be cherished, protected, and, most critically, esteemed as individuals.

The Zoo holds the animals only on behalf​ of the people of Seattle​. The City’s elected officials have the power and the moral authority to make decisions on the lives of the zoo animals that accord to the public ideal. Just like the City Council of Toronto, they can send the elephants to a home where they will find new freedoms, and deep contentment. It is what Seattle owes them, and what we all owe to Watoto, who endured such a poor life, from her first years to her death.

David Hancocks
Melbourne, Australia

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Poem: City Zoo

Watoto kept in solitary confinement

Watoto, Rest In Peace, 1969 – 2014

City Zoo
By Vivian Yeiser Laramore

The tick of time is out of rhyme,
Where wild things wait for death,
Watching the stars through iron bars,
And breathing each other’s breath.
But little man with his civic plan,
To conquer and subdue,
Acquires a thrill from broken will,
Of beasts in the city zoo.

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HuffPo Article: Seattle Zoo Elephant’s Unexpected Death Prompts Important Discussion About Animal Captivity

The tragic and sudden death of Watoto, WPZ’s African elephant, once again has put the Zoo into the national spotlight. Huffington Post picked up the story.

Here is an excerpt:

“In the wild at 45 years old they’re still having babies,” Alyne Fortgang, a Seattle resident and critic of the zoo’s elephant exhibit, told the AP. “Watoto was lame. She had arthritis, chronic bouts of colic and skin conditions, all caused by her environment.”

For years, activists have lamented the continuation of elephant exhibits at zoos and called for the animals to be relocated to sanctuaries. They assert that the confined living quarters negatively impact the well-being of elephants.

Friends of the Woodland Park Zoo, an advocacy group that advocates for the relocation of the zoo’s elephants to sanctuaries, said in a post on their website that “Watoto’s life must not be in vain” and “confinement in a zoo takes a physical and psychological toll on these far-ranging and intelligent animals.”

Read the full story on Huffington Post

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Vigil for Watoto

Vigil for Watoto

Vigil for Watoto (photo from KOMO News)

Elephant advocates from all over the region joined in Watoto’s memory to hold a vigil. We held signs at the street entrance to Woodland Park Zoo for about an hour. Then we marched to the gate entrance where we put a big picture of Watoto. One by one each of us laid a flower “at Watoto’s feet”. The silent meditation was begun with a gong. But the silence was punctuated with crying.

See photos and news coverage in the Seattle P-I

See photos and news coverage on KOMO News

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Watoto euthanized today at WPZ – Vigil tomorrow at noon

Watoto

Watoto

Today is very sad day. Watoto was euthanized. She died without ever having had a good day.

Watoto’s life must not be in vain. Bamboo and Chai must find peace and health in a sanctuary.

Watoto was discovered down when the keepers arrived this morning. Unable to get her up, the Zoo’s staff decided to euthanize her. This brings up many questions: why aren’t the elephants monitored 24/7 as they are at the sanctuaries? What are the zoo’s policies for a downed elephant? Do they have adequate equipment to lift an elephant?

Watoto was only 45 years old. In the wild, she would have been in the prime of her life; still bearing calves. Confinement in a zoo takes a physical and psychological toll on these far-ranging and intelligent animals. The zoo industry’s own statistics show that elephants die young.

Woodland Park Zoo denied Watoto of one her greatest needs–companionship of her own kind. After being ripped from her mother in Africa as a baby, Watoto never set eyes on another African elephant. The zoo also denied Watoto the opportunity to spend her remaining years in a sanctuary.

Watoto in the yard at WPZ

Watoto in the yard at WPZ

Watoto suffered from a host of chronic captivity-related diseases as a result of living her entire life in the cramped quarters of Woodland Park Zoo.

Woodland Park Zoo is an exceptionally poor environment. The elephants are locked outdoors in less than 1 acre. Indoors, the elephants are locked in barren cages, standing on hard substrate and only able to walk a few steps in any direction. This lockup, due to our climate, lasts 16-17 hours a day, every day, for over half of the year. Scientific American describes this as: “tortuous conditions [which] inflict serious physical and psychological damage on such smart and sensitive animals.”

We hope that Watoto’s suffering and death will not be in vain. We are very grateful for Seattle’s Mayor Murray’s statement that  we should “reopen a dialogue in this city about the proper habitat for elephants.”  We need him to go farther: Bamboo and Chai need to retire to a sanctuary.

Please write to ask the Mayor and the City Council to order the zoo to release Bamboo and Chai to a sanctuary. They have the authority.

Ed.murray@seattle.gov, Jean.Godden@seattle.gov,Sally.Bagshaw@seattle.gov, Tim.Burgess@seattle.gov, Sally.Clark@seattle.gov, Bruce.Harrell@seattle.gov, Nick.Licata@seattle.gov, Tom.Rasmussen@seattle.gov, Mike.OBrien@seattle.gov, Kshama.Sawant@seattle.gov

Click here for the Zoo’s press release.

Vigil Saturday at Noon

We will have hold a vigil/ peaceful demonstration at the street entrance to Woodland Park Zoo’s south entrance tomorrow at noon.

What:  Vigil for beautiful Watoto
When: Saturday, August 23, 2014 at noon
Where:  Street entrance to the Zoo’s south entrance at N. 50th and Fremont Ave. N.

Rest in peace, Watoto.

 

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Zoo’s Secrecy shows why Prop 1 is a bad idea

For Immediate Release

Monday, July 28th (Seattle, WA) – Before a packed courtroom of elephant advocates on Friday, a judge allowed the Woodland Park Zoo continue operating under a veil of secrecy. In Fortgang v. Woodland Park Zoo, King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel ruled that the Zoo is not subject to Washington State’s Public Records Act despite the fact that it receives a significant amount of tax dollars every year.

As Co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, Fortgang has filed multiple public disclosure requests to the Zoo. Frequently the Zoo was non-responsive to requests for basic financial and animal welfare information or provided information that would later prove to be grossly inaccurate.

Rob Roy Smith, with Kilpatrick, Townsend, & Stockton, LLP, representing Ms. Fortgang said: “This is dark day for our state’s sunshine laws. The Zoo’s position, that it can take taxpayer dollars but not tell taxpayers how they are used, is Exhibit A as to why Prop. 1 is a bad idea.”

For years, Woodland Park Zoo has held out its hand for massive taxpayer support while with the other slapping away taxpayer requests for transparency and accountability. To date, the Zoo has received about $126 million tax dollars since the City of Seattle turned over operation of the zoo to the Zoological Society in 2002. Under the contract between the City and the Zoo, it can count on at least $203,000,000 in total funding, yet the public cannot count on information on how it uses our tax dollars.

Judge Rietschel found that the amount of taxpayer money and the free use of City parkland, city buildings and animals given to the Zoo was significant, but said that her hands were tied by a prior Court of Appeals decision. The Judge expressed her sympathy for plaintiff Alyne Fortgang’s position and stated that “citizens should be able to follow the money”.

In addition to the ongoing contractual obligation of City and County taxpayers to send millions of dollars to the Zoo, Prop 1, if passed, is slated to give the Zoo up to additional $34 million dollars. “Prop. 1 will be another taxpayer giveaway to the Zoo without any public accountability,” said Smith.

Ms. Fortgang is considering all of her legal options including an appeal.

King County courtroom

Photo credit: Karen Ducey

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