Activists crowded City Council chambers Monday, along with supporters of Woodland Park’s plan to ship its two elephants to Oklahoma City Zoo.

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Opponents of a plan to ship Woodland Park Zoo’s two elephants to the Oklahoma City Zoo crowded into a Seattle City Council meeting Monday, pressing council members to veto the move and send the animals to a sanctuary.

The council opened the floor to comment, even though the elephants’ fate wasn’t on the agenda.

“We want to impress upon the City Council that a resolution is needed to stop this ill-conceived move to the Oklahoma City Zoo,” said Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants.

A smaller contingent of Woodland Park supporters urged the council to defer to zoo experts when it comes to deciding what’s best for 36-year-old Chai and 48-year-old Bamboo.

“The decision should not be made by activists or politicians,” said Kevin Schofield, a longtime zoo volunteer recently appointed to the zoo board of directors.

One protester called for a boycott of the zoo, but Schofield pointed out that 7,000 people visited Woodland Park on Saturday, the day after the zoo announced the elephants’ new home. “That’s not a city that’s mad at the zoo,” he said.

Woodland Park announced late last year that it would close its elephant exhibit after its oldest female, Watoto, collapsed and was euthanized. Mayor Ed Murray and five council members urged the zoo to consider moving its remaining two elephants to a sanctuary instead of another zoo.

At Monday’s council meeting, zoo supporters and critics diverged over the key considerations in deciding the elephants’ future.

Those favoring a sanctuary focused on space to roam; those favoring the Oklahoma zoo pointed out the benefit of integrating Seattle’s two older elephants into a herd with two young females, two female calves and an adult male, who’s kept in a separate yard.

“Space is not more important than a social environment,” Schofield said.

But Ernie Wagner, former curator of reptiles at Woodland Park, said it was clear to him in his time at the zoo that elephants suffer being confined in small exhibits.

“There are some animals that do not belong in zoos, because zoos cannot meet their physical, psychological and social needs,” he said. “Elephants are at the top of that list.”

The question of disease was also a point of dispute. Zoo officials rejected the 2,300-acre Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary in California because some animals there are infected with tuberculosis.

Fortgang pointed out that Oklahoma City’s bull, Rex, had a positive result on one type of TB screening test. But the Oklahoma zoo’s director of veterinary medicine, Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino, said in an email that that type of test is unreliable, and that all Rex’s follow-up tests were negative.

TB is rarely fatal to elephants, but both of Oklahoma City’s adult females were exposed to a type of herpes virus that often kills young animals. Eighteen-year-old Chandra was the only survivor of a group of young elephants that contracted the virus at the Dickerson Park Zoo in Springfield, Mo. Her 20-year-old sister Asha, mother of the two calves at Oklahoma City, was exposed but didn’t get sick, D’Agostino said.

It’s possible animals that have been exposed in the past can act as carriers, but much about the disease’s transmission is unknown.

“Our herd is screened and monitored for the virus on a weekly basis, and they remain healthy,” D’Agostino wrote. “Bamboo and Chai will be screened as well on a regular basis. …”

Chai was sent to Dickerson Park, by then a known virus hot spot, in the late ’90s for breeding. Her calf, Hansa, appeared healthy but at age 6 died of a herpes infection.

Sanctuaries do not breed elephants, and some critics have called for a halt to breeding programs in zoos. But the National Association of Zoos and Aquariums is pushing an aggressive program to boost the number of elephants in captivity.

A Seattle Times investigation in 2012 found that for every elephant born in a zoo, two die on average.

Like most U.S. zoos, Oklahoma City’s has been targeted by animal-rights activists. In Defense of Animals has included it on its list of the “Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants,” and filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the zoo’s program of breeding elephants despite the presence of herpes virus.

Recent USDA records contain no mention of whether the complaint was investigated.

The records do show a few problems revealed during USDA inspections over the past several years, including a damaged shade structure in the zoo’s old elephant yard, improperly stored fish for feeding seals, and a bobcat and cougar enclosure that flooded in heavy rains.

The elephant exhibit was rebuilt at a cost of $13 million and reopened in 2011.

The City Council took no action Monday. It’s not clear whether council members are willing to take on Woodland Park with a resolution or other measure mandating that the elephants be sent to a sanctuary.

Though local governments provide about 30 percent of Woodland Park’s funding, they have limited authority over the nonprofit that operates the zoo. “We … fully acknowledge that the care and decisions about the elephants are in your control,” Councilmember Sally Bagshaw wrote in an email to zoo officials last year.

But Bagshaw also pointed out that future funding raised through a levy could be held hostage if the zoo defied the council’s wishes.