Seattle Taxpayers File Appeal in Lawsuit Against the City for Supporting Illegal Cruelty to Woodland Park Zoo ElephantsJune 14th, 2011
Plaintiffs Protest Cruelty at the Zoo and the Use of City Funds to Support Facilities, Practices that Violate Animal Protection Laws
For immediate release
Lisa Franzetta, Animal Legal Defense Fund
Megan Backus, Animal Legal Defense Fund
Seattle—Concerned citizens represented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund are filing an appeal today in the Washington State Court of Appeals in their lawsuit against the City of Seattle and Woodland Park Zoological Society to stop the City’s unlawful use of taxpayer dollars to support the Woodland Park Zoo’s treatment of elephants in violation of Washington State and Seattle animal cruelty laws. On May 27, the King County Superior Court dismissed the lawsuit, filed in June 2010, ruling that plaintiffs Mary Sebek and Nancy Farnam, both Seattle taxpayers, did not have legal standing to pursue their claims against the City. The Court did express concern about the humaneness of holding elephants captive in zoos; because the court dismissed the case on procedural grounds, it did not consider the facts presented in the complaint about the cruel treatment of the elephants at the Zoo and did not exonerate the Zoo or its elephant exhibit. As a result of inadequate facilities, abusive management practices, longstanding intentional neglect, and breeding practices in callous disregard for elephants’ welfare, the Zoo’s elephants Bamboo, Watoto, and Chai suffer from severe and chronic foot and joint injuries, unexplained physical trauma and bleeding, and sustained psychological harm.
What’s wrong with the Woodland Park Zoo’s elephant exhibit? In the wild, elephants would walk and forage for many miles, but Bamboo, Watoto, and Chai’s exhibit is far too small to allow them to engage in natural behaviors, and on many nights, one of the elephants is locked in an area too small for them to even turn around. The lack of room to move and the outdoor surface of hard-packed sand and dirt have caused chronic, extremely painful injuries to the elephants’ feet and joints which often require medication and surgical intervention. Meanwhile, the Zoo seeks to treat its female elephants as breeding machines—Chai has been artificially inseminated at least fifty-seven times—most recently, just last week, according to news reports—and has suffered multiple miscarriages resulting in physical and psychological pain. Chai’s only live birth, Hansa, died an extremely painful death when she was only six years old from an elephant herpes virus as a result of the Zoo’s practices. The elephants’ stereotypic behavior, including pacing and “swaying,” so often seen by visitors to the Woodland Park Zoo, is in fact an indication of severe psychological distress.
The City of Seattle owns the land and the buildings of the Woodland Park Zoo, including the elephant exhibit, and uses taxpayer money to fund its operations—despite the fact that the Zoo is clearly violating state law and city ordinances in its treatment of Bamboo, Watoto, and Chai. “Shamefully, the Woodland Park Zoo continues to use taxpayer money to exploit its elephants while failing to provide them with adequate care,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “We are confident that the Court of Appeals will agree that Seattle’s taxpayers may sue under Washington State law to prevent the City from funding the illegally cruel treatment of elephants.”