Seattle Mayor Ed Murray wanted the Woodland Park Zoo’s two elephants to go to a sanctuary. But he says he can’t stop the zoo from sending them to a zoo in Oklahoma.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is “disappointed” by Woodland Park Zoo’s decision to ship its two elephants to the Oklahoma City Zoo, his spokesman said Tuesday.
But there’s not much the mayor can do about it, said Viet Shelton.
“It’s the zoo’s responsibility and their choice to determine where they were going to send the elephants,” Shelton said.
Murray had joined a majority of City Council members in requesting that the zoo consider sending the elephants to a sanctuary — or to a new home where they would have more space per animal and live in a warmer climate than in Seattle.
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Woodland Park Zoo officials made what they believe to be the best choice, Shelton said, but the Oklahoma City Zoo doesn’t appear to meet either standard.
“Hopefully, the elephants are able to live a healthy life from here on out,” Shelton said.
Local governments provide about 30 percent of the zoo’s funding but wield limited power over the nonprofit that operates Woodland Park under a 20-year contract.
According to that contract, the city lacks the power to withhold funding if the zoo makes decisions the council doesn’t agree with.
Opponents of the Oklahoma City move urged the council on Monday to adopt a resolution setting conditions on the elephants’ transfer, and favoring a move to a sanctuary where the animals would have more room to roam and would not be on public display. But zoo officials point out that the leading candidate sanctuary, in California, has a problem with tuberculosis infections.
Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who led the push to send the elephants to a sanctuary, did not respond to requests for comment.
Knoll Lowney, an attorney for Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, said the group is proceeding with a lawsuit that challenges the suitability of any zoo for Asian elephants, an endangered species.
“We are exploring all legal options to ensure that these elephants go to a sanctuary rather than a zoo that will have even worse conditions than here,” Lowney said.
Woodland Park Zoo is moving quickly to familiarize 48-year-old Bamboo and 36-year-old Chai to the crates in which they will make the 2,000-mile trip to Oklahoma. Officials have said the move could come as early as mid-March.