Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw says the battle over elephants in zoos will continue, but she won’t oppose moving Woodland Park Zoo’s animals to Oklahoma City.

Share story

Barring a surprise legal victory on the part of activists, the transfer of Woodland Park Zoo’s elephants to the Oklahoma City Zoo appears to be a done deal.

Seattle City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw, who spearheaded the council’s efforts to get the animals moved to a sanctuary, said Thursday that she won’t try to block the Oklahoma deal. Mayor Ed Murray said earlier this week that he was disappointed in the choice but also would not try to stop the move.

That leaves no political support for activists who had urged the council to compel the zoo to send the elephants to a sanctuary.

“We’re not going to be doing anything more at this point,” Bagshaw said.

Bagshaw said she would rather see the animals in a sanctuary, but that the habitat at Oklahoma City will be an improvement over what 48-year-old Bamboo and 36-year-old Chai have in Seattle.

“If somebody said to me: Is this the best possible thing? I would have said moving them to a sanctuary where they could be with a family and have 10 acres of space would be preferable,” she said.

In Oklahoma City, Seattle’s elephants will have a much larger barn and about three times the outdoor space as in Seattle, she pointed out. “There will be space for them to choose with whom they are spending their time, and in the heat of the summer, they have those swimming pools.”

But Bagshaw said she doesn’t think the story will end when the elephants leave town.

Support is growing for the view that elephants should not be confined in zoos, Bagshaw said. She thinks it’s possible that Oklahoma City’s entire elephant herd — which will number seven with the addition of Chai and Bamboo — may be moved to a sanctuary some day.

“The pressure from people who do not want to see elephants on display is like the pressure we put on aquariums a few years ago, that orcas should not be put on display,” she said.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced Thursday it will phase elephants out of its shows within three years and retire the animals to a complex in Florida, largely because of public concerns.

“Here we have Ringling Brothers more progressive than Woodland Park Zoo and our city government,” said Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants.

Oklahoma City just spent $13 million to revamp its elephant exhibit and has no intention of closing it down, said Steve Hill, chief of staff to Mayor Mick Cornett, and the city’s representative on the trust that oversees zoo operations.

“Our feeling is that the facility for elephants here is world class, and the medical care available to the elephants is well beyond what they would have available to them in a sanctuary,” Hill said.

The city of Oklahoma City owns its zoo, but Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle is funded by a mix of public and private money and run by a nonprofit, so local government has limited authority over its decisions.

Fortgang said her organization is pursuing legal action to stop the move, but time is running short.

Woodland Park said the animals will be moved sometime this month or in April.

Information in this article, originally published March 5, 2015, was corrected March 6, 2015. A previous version of this story gave an incorrect first name for the mayor of Oklahoma City. He is Mick Cornett, not Mike.