A King County judge on Friday declined to block the transfer of Woodland Park Zoo’s two remaining elephants to a new home in Oklahoma.
Chai and Bamboo moved a big step closer to Oklahoma City on Friday, when a judge declined to block the elephants’ transfer.
The Elephant Justice Project, whose members believe the aging females would be better off in a sanctuary than at another zoo, had asked the court to issue an injunction.
But King County Superior Court Judge Palmer Robinson said she didn’t think activists could win a court case arguing that the city of Seattle, not the Woodland Park Zoo Society, actually owns the animals. She also declined to grant a two-week stay to delay the transfer while the case is being appealed.
The decision elicited tears and sobs from some elephant advocates in the packed courtroom. Alyne Fortgang, lead plaintiff for the Elephant Justice Project, said an appeal would be filed immediately.
Most Read Local Stories
- Take Space Needle out of Seattle’s skyline and most think we’re a certain no-nonsense Midwest city WATCH
- King County wants to shoot fireworks at bald eagles WATCH
- A better ride for 26,000 Seattle commuters when Metro buses shift to Columbia Street
- Bernie Sanders tells big Tacoma Dome crowd the Democratic establishment 'should be getting nervous' VIEW
- Where others failed, now Amazon is taking up the case against the president
“We are going to work as hard as we can to get these elephants to a sanctuary,” she said after the hearing.
The loss leaves opponents only two legal options: the state appeal, and a federal lawsuit arguing that Woodland Park violated the Endangered Species Act by failing to get a permit for the move.
Woodland Park Zoo has agreed not to ship the elephants before Wednesday. The move could take place as early as Thursday, but that’s unlikely, said CEO Deborah Jensen. “It will take us a little while to figure out the logistics.”
The zoo has said it wants to complete the transfer before the weather gets hot.
Jensen said she didn’t know if officials will announce the move in advance because of the possibility of protests.
“I’m not sure we could safely move the animals with a big crowd around, and our main goal is safety,” she said.
During Friday’s court hearing, Elephant Justice Project attorney Knoll Lowney argued that the city didn’t have the authority to transfer ownership of zoo animals to the nonprofit Woodland Park Zoo Society in 2002.
But zoo attorney Paul Lawrence pointed out that the city has long had the power to sell or otherwise dispose of public property.
After the hearing, Jensen reiterated the zoo’s contention that the Oklahoma City Zoo, with its herd of five elephants — including two calves — will be an excellent home for 36-year-old Chai and 48-year-old Bamboo.
The hope is that they will integrate with the zoo’s females, forming a multigenerational herd similar to those in the wild.
At the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary in California, there’s only one other Asian elephant, Jensen pointed out. Because she is kept in quarantine due to possible tuberculosis, that means Chai and Bamboo would have no other elephants to socialize with.
But Fortgang pointed out that Bamboo had to be temporarily shipped to another zoo because she didn’t get along with Chai’s calf, Hansa, who later died of a herpes infection. “The zoo’s claim that Chai and Bamboo will integrate with the elephants in Oklahoma City is bogus,” she said.
Lawrence said there probably won’t be a court hearing on the Endangered Species Act lawsuit. But lawyers on both sides have filed briefs, and a decision could come any day.