AT least one good thing came out of Tuesday’s passage of Proposition 1 and the creation of a Seattle Park District.
While the Seattle City Council can now raise property taxes without a vote of the people, it no longer has an excuse to duck one of the biggest questions about the future of the parks — what to do about the elephants at the Woodland Park Zoo?
The zoo houses three of them, while a growing body of evidence suggests traditional zoos do a sorry job of caring for elephants. Removed from their native climate, elephants fall prey to disease. Confined to pens, they have little room to roam. Small wonder that breeding programs have had limited success and calf mortality is high.
As documented by Michael Berens’ Seattle Times 2012 series “Glamour Beasts,” American zoos have turned a blind eye to the failures of elephant-keeping because the animals are popular attractions.
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The zoo board responded to public criticism by creating a task force. The task force curiously decided on an expansion plan — to rebuild the barn, stop the mixing of Asian and African species and possibly increase the herd to four. President and Chief Executive Deborah Jensen says zoos help preserve a threatened species and create public awareness of elephants’ plight, while experts found no evidence Woodland Park’s elephants are treated cruelly.
But that’s by zoo-keeping standards. The better decision would be to dispatch the three to an elephant sanctuary and exit the business. City Council members have managed to avoid taking a stand, despite the best efforts of activists to draw them out.
Now, suddenly, Proposition 1 gives the council leverage and no ability to hide. A five-year spending plan for the new tax levy created by Proposition 1 allocates $10 million for major maintenance at the zoo. But who says that money should come without strings?
For starters, the council might insist the society open zoo records to public inspection so true costs of the elephant program are known. A King County Superior Court judge recently ruled that the society is not subject to the state Public Records Act, but the council could insist a disclosure rider be added to the zoo contract. Or it could just demand the elephants go.
The council promised this new parks arrangement would be accountable to the public. Now it can prove it. Start with the zoo.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).