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Uncertainty surrounds the future of the elephant exhibit at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.

A task force assigned to study the health and well-being of the zoo's three elephants released its final report on Tuesday.

There is a growing body of evidence suggests captivity is harmful to elephants.

So the zoo commissioned a task force and on Tuesday two options were presented: one would keep them at the zoo and expand the herd. Another option would be to allow them to age out or retire.

The expert review panel found the overall health of the Chai, Bamboo and Watoto was good. All three were considered bright, alert and active. And that staff of the elephant exhibit are well trained and provide excellent care.

But the task force did raise some concerns. There are isolation issues. Bamboo is separated from Watoto, which experts say can be harmful to the herd's overall social well-being.

They noted a moderate level of repetitive behaviors by Chai, which can signal stress or frustration.

The pacing, the head bobbing, the head swiveling these are all behaviors elephants do to numb the traumas of captivity, said Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants.

The elephants are also getting older - two of the three are of post-breeding age.

The task force presented two long-term options to improve the exhibit and livelihood of the elephants:

Option 1: Create a multi-generational herd with an effective breeding program.
- Implement expeditious strategies to build a multi‐generational herd, including the natural breeding of Chai. In addition to, or instead of breeding Chai, consider bringing in additional cows and perhaps a bull to create a multi‐generational herd.
- Begin the exhibit and program planning and investments necessary to support a growing multigenerational herd, including the building of a state‐of‐the‐art elephant facility. The Task Force recognizes that the creation of a multi‐generational herd and facility will take a number of years.
- Develop world‐class educational programming designed to instill concern and empathy for elephants and other threatened or endangered species and to prompt conservation advocacy and action in zoo visitors and on a broader national level.

The majority of the Task Force recommends this option.

Option 2: Improve the existing exhibit but allow current elephants to age out or retire at the appropriate time.
- Do not breed Chai and do not bring additional elephants to WPZ.
- Improve the exhibit and enrichment program for the existing elephant herd and allow them to age at the WPZ until they pass or they are moved.
- Develop world‐class educational programming designed to instill concern and empathy for elephants and other threatened or endangered species and to prompt conservation advocacy and action in zoo visitors and on a broader national level.
- Use the three elephants as representatives of the threatened elephants in the wild while significantly enhancing conservation efforts (field and public policy) and sharpening the focus of the education program and creating pathways to save elephants in the wild.
- When the three current elephants are deceased or moved, WPZ would discontinue its elephant program.

A minority of the Task Force members recommend this option.

We didn't really look at feasibility and we do understand that it's a significant change from what they have now and it will be costly and it will take time if they choose, said Jay Manning, Co-Chair, Woodland Park Zoo Elephant Task Force.

It will be their decision, the zoo board and the zoo itself, on whether they follow this recommendation or not. If they do it's going to take time, it's going to take money, but we, a strong majority of the task force, feel it's the right course of action.

Experts says captive elephants typically have shorter life spans. A mutated form of herpes killed Woodland Park Zoo's beloved baby Hansa in 2007.

It s not only too cold, but it's also too wet and that forces the elephants to be locked up in their barns for 16-17 hours a day for 7 months of the year. That's highly cruel, said Fortgang.

Several zoos around the country, including Toronto, have opted to move their elephants out and into a sanctuary. Aylne Fortgang hopes Seattle follows suit.

It would be such an incredible lesson to our children of compassion, of science based decision to make the right choice for them, she said.

FULL FINAL REPORT - Task Force on WPZ Elephant Exhibit and Program

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