Activists have renewed their legal fight to have Seattle’s two Asian elephants sent to a sanctuary in California rather than the Oklahoma City Zoo.

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While Woodland Park Zoo’s elephants cool their heels in a small, quarantine facility in San Diego, activists have renewed a legal battle to block the animals’ transfer to Oklahoma City.

Arguing that last month’s failed attempt to transport the animals put them in danger, the Elephant Justice Project (EJP) filed motions Monday again asking a U.S. District Court judge to block further transport.

“The botched transport shows there is a high risk that these endangered elephants are going to be seriously harmed if they continue with another leg of a very long trip,” said EJP attorney Claire Tonry.

Glamour Beasts: The dark side of elephant captivity

Click here or on the photo above to see The Seattle Times’ 2012 investigation into elephant deaths in U.S. zoos.  

Seattle’s elephants

Elephants from Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo were moved to the Oklahoma City Zoo in 2015 after a bruising political and court fight. Activists had wanted the elephants transferred to a sanctuary in California.  

With Chai and Bamboo already in California, the activists argue the 470-mile trip to a sanctuary near Sacramento would be safer for the aging females than the 1,300-mile journey to Oklahoma.

U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour previously refused to block the elephants’ move from Seattle, though he wrote that the court was “deeply troubled” by the fact that the Oklahoma City Zoo would not be able to provide the elephants with the space or climate they need.

But Coughenour ruled that since neither of the country’s two elephant sanctuaries could immediately accept the animals or integrate them into a multigenerational herd, moving them to Oklahoma was unlikely to inflict any additional harm compared to what they already endure in captivity.

Now, Tonry said, the situation has changed.

The elephants were loaded into crates on a flatbed truck on April 15, just hours after a federal appeals-court panel turned down another injunction request. But the convoy ran into a snowstorm that forced them to detour first to Las Vegas, then to San Diego, where Chai and Bamboo have been held since April 17.

The new motions accuse Woodland Park of rushing the move, even though the storm was forecast. En route, 48-year-old Bamboo tired and repeatedly tried to sit down in the small crate.

“I don’t think there’s any way around it, there was something that went seriously wrong,” Tonry said. By the time the animals were unloaded in San Diego, they had been standing in the crates more than 45 hours.

Woodland Park Zoo officials have denied rushing the move, saying they planned it carefully and also considered in advance the possibility of detours.

Emails obtained by The Seattle Times through a public-records request show that a curator at Woodland Park contacted Utah’s Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City on the morning of Monday, April 13. The curator said the elephant convoy should be passing through the area on April 16 and asked the Hogle Zoo for assistance in case of problems.

A records request to the San Diego Zoo was denied because the zoo is operated by a private nonprofit, not a public agency.

Moving the elephants an additional 1,300 miles to Oklahoma City would violate the federal Endangered Species Act by subjecting them to further harm, including the possibility of high heat in the Phoenix area, the documents say.

The new legal filings include a statement from PAWS co-founder Edward Stewart, repeating his offer of “lifetime care” for Chai and Bamboo. He said donors have pledged $500,000 to modify a barn and prepare a 15-acre, vegetated habitat for them.

Though the sanctuary currently has no other Asian elephants with which Chai and Bamboo could socialize, Stewart said he expects that to change as zoos and circuses retire aging elephants.

Oklahoma City has a herd of four females that includes two young adults and two juveniles, which Woodland Park Zoo officials say will provide a richer social experience for Chai and Bamboo.

Woodland Park Zoo officials have said the animals will resume their journey to Oklahoma as soon as the logistics can be worked out — and before the heat becomes intense.