A litany of warning signs leading up to the Asian elephant Chai’s death last January make a strong case for closing elephant exhibits and breeding programs throughout the country.
CHAI, the elephant, did not exactly die in peace.
Newly obtained medical records indicate the 37-year-old elephant suffered from a number of maladies in the months leading up to her death. After being trucked to the Oklahoma City Zoo from Seattle, Chai had lost weight and suffered from a fatal blood infection.
Oklahoma City Zoo officials have defended their care and seemed at a loss to explain her death after they found her body on the ground on a cold January morning.
But according to a SeattleTimes watchdog report by reporter Sandi Doughton, Chai had lost more than 1,000 pounds within eight months of her transfer and experienced skin lesions so bad they had to be drained. Her teeth were deformed to the point she could not properly chew her food. Twice she fell and zoo keepers had to use a strap and crane to hoist her to her feet. And twice she had run-ins with other elephants. One tussle left her with abrasions.
Woodland Park Zoo leadership should acknowledge the disastrous consequences of its decision last year to send Chai and her herd mate, Bamboo, on a nightmarish, cross-country road trip to Oklahoma.
Mayor Ed Murray, members of the Seattle City Council and former Woodland Park Zoo Society President and CEO Deborah Jensen largely ignored the fierce ethical debate about transferring the elephants to another zoo. The mayor and council could have fought harder to block the move and insisted the zoo’s two elephants, Chai and Bamboo, be retired to the nearest sanctuary in California.
On Monday, the Woodland Park Zoo had little to say about Chai’s death other than to remind everyone the zoo had transferred ownership of the elephants last November.
“We believe [the Oklahoma City Zoo] provided excellent care,” said spokeswoman Gigi Allianic.
Not only does that sound tone-deaf — especially to the passing of a magnificent animal that entertained Seattle visitors for years — it condones Oklahoma City Zoo’s ongoing efforts to breed elephants in questionable conditions.
Clearly, the zoo community refuses to learn from Chai’s death.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is already taking notice and should determine whether the federal Animal Welfare Act was ignored.