Bamboo, the 49-year-old female elephant moved from Seattle to Oklahoma City last year, has attacked — and been attacked by — her new herd mates. But officials say it’s normal behavior for the animals.
When Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo transferred its two elephants to the Oklahoma City Zoo last year, officials were optimistic that the animals would integrate well with Oklahoma’s existing herd.
Bamboo, the elder female, would become the matriarch. The younger Chai would be an “auntie” to Oklahoma’s young elephants, they predicted.
But within a few months, one of Oklahoma’s baby elephants was dead of a viral infection almost certainly passed to her by Chai. A few months later, Chai herself collapsed and died from a combination of emaciation and a systemic blood infection.
Now, zoo records show that far from acting as a matriarch, Bamboo has attacked — and been attacked by — the other elephants at her new home.
On at least three occasions, Bamboo suffered bites on her tail, including one described as an “amputation” that left bits of tissue and tendon exposed in the severed tip. The wound took months to heal.
In an incident in April, a female elephant chased and pushed Bamboo, resulting in a 6-inch scrape on her trunk. And in May, Bamboo charged a 20-month-old female, shoving her under the electrical “hot wire” that surrounds the compound.
Oklahoma City Zoo spokeswoman Candice Rennels described the incidents as a normal part of establishing dominance hierarchy within a herd.
“Bamboo is doing great,” Rennels wrote in an email. “Though she is not the matriarch of the herd, she is integrating well with the other elephants. She is not being harassed or bullied.”
Bamboo’s records were released Tuesday by Seattle-based Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants. The group opposed the move to Oklahoma City and argued that the elephants should be sent to a sanctuary where they could live out their lives in a natural habitat without being on display.
Obtaining the documents was difficult, said Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of the Friends group.
In the past, the zoo provided electronic copies of records to organizations that requested them, including The Seattle Times. But when The Times and Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants separately asked for Bamboo’s recent health records, Oklahoma City’s assistant municipal counselor, Marsha Harrod, said providing records in the past had caused “excessive disruption” of zoo functions.
To see any additional records, she said, the organizations would have to send representatives to Oklahoma City.
The Seattle Times objected to the restriction, questioning its legality. Joey Senat, a media-law professor at Oklahoma State University and board member of the open- government advocacy group FOI Oklahoma, described it as an “embarrassingly obvious attempt to prevent — or at least excessively discourage — The Seattle Times from receiving the records.”
Kurt Hochenauer, an animal -welfare advocate and professor at the University of Central Oklahoma, visited the zoo last week to collect the records on behalf of the Friends group and wrote about the experience on his blog Okie Funk.
At the zoo, he was monitored by three staffers, including Harrod, and was not allowed to download the electronic files. Instead, he had to print out each document separately.
“It was a mess,” Hochenauer said.
In an email Tuesday, Rennels said the zoo is “reviewing our guidelines” for records requests, and would resume sending documents electronically.
Zoo records previously obtained by The Seattle Times revealed that Chai had suffered from weight loss, skin lesions and other health problems, though zoo officials said there had been no red flags before her death.
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Officials also initially insisted there was no link between the Seattle animals and the death of the baby elephant. But records showed that Chai suffered from an active infection of the strain of virus that killed the youngster.
Bamboo’s records show that she also has lost weight, dropping from 8,600 pounds on arrival in May 2015 to 7,420 pounds on July 1, 2016.
The records also show that Bamboo has often been separated from the other elephants at night. In April, May and June, she was confined in a separate area overnight at least 28 times.
In addition, the 49-year-old female continues to suffer from the foot and digestive problems that plagued her even before the move to Oklahoma.
Both Fortgang and Hochenauer called on the zoo to “retire” Bamboo to one of the country’s two elephant sanctuaries.
“We are not going to stop until Bamboo can rest in peace and live out her golden years in a humane way, not being bullied and chased by other animals and living in a tiny zoo yard,” Fortgang said.
Rennels said the Oklahoma City Zoo does not intend to move Bamboo.