Help send Watoto to a sanctuary–not another zoo

Watoto is one of the three elephants–and the only African elephant–at Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo. Over forty years ago, as an infant in Kenya, she was captured, torn away from her mother and family, and brought to the US.


So today, about 70 people, organized by Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, filed into the Seattle City Council meeting to represent Watoto and ask that the council send her to a sanctuary.

All elephants at the Woodland Park Zoo (the others being Bamboo and Chai) languish in a small enclosure–about an acre in size. That acre is subdivided to keep Watoto apart from the other elephants (they don’t get along). And for over half the year, because of Seattle’s cold, damp climate, the elephants spend 16-17 hours a day indoors.

For large, migratory animals used to traveling great distances, this is a cruel arrangement.

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants is working hard to have the three elephants retired to a sanctuary. However, Watoto’s situation is urgent: The zoo intends to send her to a different, impoverished zoo!

Watoto is lame, broken and aging. She deserves to live out her days at a place like PAWS or The Elephant Sanctuary.

The Council didn’t let us speak up for Watoto, but our presence–and our shirts–spoke volumes. We will try again. Watoto depends on us.

How to Help

Please take a few minutes to email the Seattle City Council and Mayor Ed Murray. Simply say, “Send Watoto to a Sanctuary” or include these points:

  • A super majority of citizens want the elephants retired to a sanctuary.
  • Since the zoo is moving Watoto, we’re asking that the Zoo honor our values and send her to a sanctuary.
  • Studies have shown that keeping elephants in zoos serves no measurable conservation or educational purpose.
  • Woodland Park Zoo has received $100 million taxpayer dollars from the City and King County since 2002 making the welfare of Watoto all of our responsibility.
  • Twenty-seven zoos have closed or will close their elephant exhibits; let us join those progressive enlightened Zoos.


Tweet: @Mayor_Ed_Murray   @SeattleCouncil   @woodlandparkzoo


July 14/2014 update

We made the news this evening!

August 23rd update

Watoto was found dead in her cage. RIP Watoto. This tragedy highlights how unsuited elephants are for zoos and reinforces the importance of sanctuary.


An Apology to Elephants

HBO An Apology to ElephantsWhat’s the problem with the elephant in the room?” asks veterinarian Mel Richardson rhetorically in the new HBO documentary An Apology to Elephants. He answers his own question: “the room.”

The problem of elephants in captivity is the heart of this film, narrated by Lily Tomlin. It guides viewers through our complicated relationships with elephants. It shows beautiful footage of wild herds and contrasts them with heartbreaking scenes from circuses and zoos.

The documentary interviews several elephant experts, including the late Pat Derby, co-founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). Her sanctuary in California is a refuge for elephants.

The film is difficult to watch. Elephants in circuses and zoos are trained through forced submission and physical violence. The bull hook is an instrument of torture and the elephants learn to fear whoever bears one. But it’s important to know about the plight of captive elephants. How they’ve been ripped away from their families in Africa and Asia just to entertain us.

baby elephant training (PETA)

The performances that these majestic elephants are forced to participate in seems to mock their very elephant-ness. The ringleaders have stench of colonialism on them. Conquer, dominate, exploit, profit.

Ringling Brothers Circus (Amy n Rob)

Elephants have been exploited for a long time. They’ve been used to perform hard labor, as instruments of war, as objects of entertainment, as transportation–not to mention being killed for their meat and ivory. Humans have been unkind to pachyderms and we owe them a better future.

Elephants in the wild form tight social bonds. Male babies stay with their mothers for up to 15 years. Females never leave the matriarchy.

The Oakland Zoo is featured prominently in the film as an example of a zoo that is changing. They’ve increased the enclosure (it’s still just 6 acres, but that’s six times bigger than Seattle’s paltry enclosure). Instead of direct contact (which involves bull hooks), they use indirect contact so trainers are never in the same area as the elephants. When they do interact with elephants, it’s through a fence and with positive reinforcement.

bullhook (IDA)

The trainers acquired the elephants through other, sub par zoos, and to my knowledge they aren’t breeding them. They acknowledged that the wild is the best place for elephants but since these ones can’t be released into the wild, improving their living conditions is the next best thing.

I don’t support zoos and I would like to see the Oakland Zoo elephants to go a sanctuary like PAWS too. Profiting from animals, whether in a zoo or circus, isn’t right. But on the spectrum of elephant treatment, Oakland is doing a whole lot more than most places.

After seeing this film, you can bet I’ll be at the circus the next time it comes to town–protesting it! In this area, Ringling has learned to stay out of Seattle, but they still come to Everett and Tacoma. I’ll be there, speaking up for the elephants who can’t. Elephants as old as I am who see nothing but the inside of trucks, the sharp end of a bull hook, and the jeering crowds in a circus tent.

I’ve written the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle and asked that their elephants be released to a sanctuary. I encourage you to do the same. Write to the officials in Seattle or your local zoo.


Have you seen An Apology to Elephants? What did you think? Do you know of other captive elephants who have campaigns to help them?