What does the future hold for Seattle's zoo elephants?

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by MEG COYLE / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @MegCoyleKING

KING5.com

Posted on November 4, 2013 at 8:42 PM

It may be the closest you'll come to a creature that's far and away one of the most beloved and beleagured. Chai, Bamboo and Watoto call the Woodland Park Zoo their home.
 
On average, a wild elephant like Watoto is killed every 15 minutes for their ivory. Chai's native habitat is shrinking. Their numbers are plummeting. Conservation is key. But is captivity the answer?
 
"In a perfect world, we'd love for all our creatures to be wild. But I have to say, that's not possible," said Zoo Board Chair Nancy Pellegrino.
 
What is possible, says Pellegrino, is to grow conservation efforts through growing the zoo's local elephant population. "Having our elephant program expanded, hopefully, will be part of that mission."
 
It's something a zoo-appointed task force now recommends. The status quo, they say, has to go.
But there are questions about the cost - not just financially but to the overall health of the elephants. And according to activists who want to see these elephants moved out of here, captivity is too high a price to pay.
 
"We don't have the climate, we don't have the space, and the three elephants we have are not bonded," said Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of Friends of the Woodland Park Zoo Elephants.
 
Citing a recent survey by In Defense of Animals and Friends of the Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, Fortgang says keeping the elephants at the zoo is not in the public's interest.
 
"Sixty-two percent want the elephants retired so ultimately they're going against the values of the community and they're going against the will of the community."
 
Pellegrino says the zoo has done its own polling that suggests otherwise: "I will tell you that's not what the Elephant Task Force found and it's also not what our polling and surveying has found in the last year."
 
Whatever the surveys say, one thing is for sure. Keeping the elephants and expanding the program won't come cheap and could be a tough sell.
 
There is no word yet on just how much it would cost to expand the zoo's elephant breeding program. The zoo board will take the next two months to consider the task force recommendations, before presenting a plan in January.

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