A civil lawsuit filed Tuesday against the city of Seattle argues that "inhumane and unlawful" treatment of the Woodland Park Zoo's three elephants violates local anti-cruelty laws.

A civil lawsuit filed against the city of Seattle on Tuesday argues that “inhumane and unlawful” treatment of the Woodland Park Zoo’s three elephants violates local anti-cruelty laws.

The plaintiffs, Mary L. Sebek, who lives in Seattle’s Greenwood neighborhood, and Nancy Farnam, of Edmonds, are being represented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

In the complaint, filed in King County Superior Court, the women argue that the zoo’s “inadequate facilities” — a one-acre enclosure and a barn — do not meet the animals’ need to walk extensively and have led to chronic foot and joint problems for the elephants.

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The suit cites part of the Seattle Municipal Code, which states that it’s unlawful to “keep an animal in quarters … that are of insufficient size to permit the animal to move about freely.”

Bruce Bohmke, deputy director of the zoo, said Tuesday that he hadn’t read the suit, so he couldn’t comment.

Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for the City Attorney’s Office, said the office had no comment “because litigation is pending.”

The plaintiffs allege that keeping elephants in captivity contributes to psychological distress, which is expressed in swaying and other repetitive behaviors that have been caught on video.

“The zoo continues to keep elephants, despite its inability to meet their basic needs, because it believe that elephants … are a marquee attraction that fosters ticket sales and donations,” according to the suit.

Sebek said her daughter got interested in elephants two years ago, which eventually led the two of them to become elephant advocates. Sebek said an ideal outcome would be for the animals to move to the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn., which has more than 2,700 acres of open space.

The lawsuit, she said, could help “give the elephants a chance to retire.”

Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or skrishnan@seattletimes.com