Seattle Taxpayers Sue the City for Supporting Illegal Cruelty to Woodland Park Zoo Elephants

Posted on June 29, 2010

Plaintiffs Protest Cruelty at the Zoo and the Use of City Funds to Support Facilities, Practices that Violate Animal Protection Laws

Take Action!Update
June 14, 2011:
The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an appeal in the Washington State Court of Appeals in their lawsuit against the City of Seattle and Woodland Park Zoo 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.

May 27, 2011: Today, the King County Superior Court dismissed ALDF’s lawsuit against the City of Seattle for its cruel treatment of the elephants at the Woodland Park Zoo. Although the court expressed concern about the humaneness of holding elephants captive in zoos, it ruled that the plaintiffs did not have standing to pursue their claims as taxpayers against the City. 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. ALDF is evaluating our options to determine whether it is appropriate to file an appeal in the case.

June 29, 2010

Outraged citizens represented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit on June 29, 2010 against the City of Seattle to stop the City’s unlawful use of taxpayer dollars to support the Woodland Park Zoo’s reckless and illegally cruel treatment of its elephants. 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. Chai’s daughter, Hansa, died in 2007 when she was only six years old as a result of the Zoo’s practices. Plaintiffs Mary Sebek and Nancy Farnam–both Seattle taxpayers–brought their concerns about the misuse of city funds to support illegal conduct at the Zoo to the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), whose attorneys are representing them.

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 one or more elephants are commonly confined in an area smaller than a tennis court. The outdoor surface of hard-packed sand and dirt has caused chronic, extremely painful injuries to the elephants’ feet and joints which often require medication and surgical intervention. Meanwhile, the Zoo treats its female elephants as breeding machines–Chai has been artificially inseminated at least fifty-seven times, and has suffered multiple miscarriages resulting in physical and psychological pain. Chai’s only live birth, Hansa, died an extremely painful death from an elephant herpes virus. The elephants’ stereotypic “swaying,” so often seen by visitors to the Woodland Park Zoo, is in fact an indication of severe psychological distress.

The City of Seattle uses taxpayer money to fund the Woodland Park Zoo, including its elephant exhibit–despite the fact that the Zoo is clearly violating state law and city ordinances in its treatment of Bamboo, Watoto, and Chai. “Over the last twenty years, more and more zoos have been eliminating their elephant exhibits as an increased knowledge about elephants has shown that it is difficult and costly to keep them physically and psychologically healthy in captivity,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “Shamefully, the Woodland Park Zoo continues to use taxpayer money to exploit its elephants while failing to provide them with adequate care.”

“As a taxpayer, I feel obliged to take a stand to make sure that the City of Seattle stops funding animal cruelty,” says Ms. Sebek. “It’s time for the City of Seattle to pull the plug on the Zoo’s inadequate facilities and cruel and dangerous practices in its elephant exhibit,” states Ms. Farnam. “Bamboo, Watoto, and Chai deserve better–and the taxpayers of Seattle are demanding accountability.”

Urge the City of Seattle to stop funding the Woodland Park Zoo’s cruel elephant exhibit. Sign the petition today.

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