Wildlife biologist Jane Goodall has backpedaled on her earlier contention that Woodland Park Zoo’s elephants belong in a sanctuary. She now supports their transfer to Oklahoma City Zoo.
Wildlife biologist Jane Goodall backpedaled Friday on her earlier contention that a California sanctuary is the best home for Woodland Park Zoo’s Asian elephants Chai and Bamboo.
In a letter to Mayor Ed Murray, the Seattle City Council, and Woodland Park CEO Deborah Jensen, Goodall said that after reading the findings of an expert panel convened by the zoo, she is now convinced the Oklahoma City Zoo is preferable for the two aging females.
“At Oklahoma City Zoo, Chai and Bamboo would join a family of elephants, including two young adults, a four-year-old and an infant,” Goodall wrote. “Elephants are highly intelligent animals with deep emotional connections and complex social structures. Chai and Bamboo will be able to live more fully within this complete family herd.”
Last month, Goodall said in a statement that she feels “great sadness” seeing elephants in zoos. She praised the space offered by the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary, saying “Bamboo and Chai deserve to live out their lives in this wonderful place where they can roam over a relatively large area.”
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But at PAWS, Chai and Bamboo would have no other Asian elephants to socialize with, unless new animals were added to the herd over time.
Goodall also praised zoo staff involved in planning the WPZ elephants’ transfer. “The caliber of the team of professionals making this recommendation is impressive,” she wrote.
It’s not the first time Goodall has stepped back from a strong statement about zoos and elephants. In a 2011 letter to Toronto city officials, she praised their decision to send three African elephants to the PAWS sanctuary.
“While many zoos do an excellent job of caring for wild animals and contributing to their conservation, there are some species, like elephants, which will always be unsuitable to zoo environments,” she wrote.
Two months later, she issued a second letter, saying she did not intend for her comments to be used as an indictment of zoos in general or a call for all zoos to close their elephant programs.
“Today zoos have improved dramatically since I was a child,” she wrote, calling on zoos and sanctuaries to “collaborate to provide the best possible conditions for the elephants in their care.”
The Jane Goodall Institute collaborates with zoos on research, conservation and education programs. Several zoos are also donors.
Bamboo, 48, and Chai, 36, are currently in a holding facility at the San Diego Zoo. The caravan transporting them to Oklahoma detoured to California after encountering bad weather en route.
Woodland Park officials have said the elephants will continue to Oklahoma City soon, once details of the second transport can be worked out.