(Left to right) Nancy Farnam, coordinator of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, Catherine Doyle, campaign director of In Defense of Animals, actor/comedian Lily Tomlin and Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants express the need to transport Woodland Park Zoo's three elephants to a sanctuary in Tennessee. (Click image to see more photos)
Comedian Lily Tomlin advocates sending zoo's elephants to sanctuary
Actor/comedian Lily Tomlin is helping in an effort sponsored by the Friends of Woodland Park Zoo to get the zoo's three elephants, Watoto, Bamboo and Chai, transferred to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee so the animals can live out their remaining years in the sanctuary’s 2,700 acres.
The elephants current home at the zoo is about one acre.
At a press conference this morning, April 27, at the Phinney Neighborhood Center, Tomlin said her concern and interest in the elephant's well-being did not grow overnight.
“I began to want to help and inform the public of elephants in zoos and my advocacy resulted from reading and educating myself on the needs of elephants,” Tomlin said. “I began to realize that zoos cannot meet those needs and they could never meet those needs, simply for lack of space."
Alyene Fortgang, co-founder of Friends of Elephants, expressed the negative affects Woodland Park Zoo’s habitat has on the elephants held in captivity.
“Elephants are migratory animals, they are born in bodies that need to move,” Fortgang said. “This movement alleviates the pressure of 8,000 pounds on their joints and feet. When they don’t have this movement they get painful arthritis and foot diseases.”
Fortgang said that all three elephants are incarcerated 17 hours a day, seven days a week for seven months of the year at Woodland.
“Woodland Park Zoo claims that keeping elephants in captivity is necessary for the conservation and survival of a species yet the toll in premature deaths in captive zoo elephants is staggering,” Fortgang said.
Friends of Elephant’s said the humane solution to this problem, which is common as zoo’s across the country, would be an all expenses paid transportation of Woodland’s elephants to the Tennessee elephant sanctuary.
“At the sanctuary they would be able to bond with elephants of their choosing, roam hills, forests and meadows and will be able to swim in the 25-acre lake provided,” said Fortgang.
In replacement of the live elephants, Fortgang explained an idea of possibly creating a virtual exhibit.
Nancy Farnam, resident nurse and coordinator of Friends of Elephants said she never dreamed that the elephants would still be confined in the zoo today, after she started the campaign in 2005.
“When they (elephants) develop these captivity related illnesses the cost to maintain them skyrockets, the amount of drugs and treatments and everything still does not help or save them,” Farnam said. “The (future) exhibit will only be limited by the innovation and imagination of planners. It will hold kids’ attention better because currently they spend 30 to 60 seconds on average on the (current) exhibit because there is nothing to see other than elephants standing there looking bored and unhealthy.”
They hope that the replacement exhibit would give kids more interactive things to play with to hold their attention and learn more about conservation and education without compromising any elephants.
“We’ve done a really good job of raising public awareness of the plight of these elephants, but we still need to overcome the entrenched zoo politics and help them realize that these elephants are suffering and there’s nothing they can do about this suffering except for let them go,” Farnam said.
Zoo representative said the facility meets or exceed rigorous Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Standards for Elephant Management and Care.
“Our elephants are healthy and receive the highest quality care from experienced elephant-care experts and board-certified veterinarians with approximately 160 combined years of elephant management experience,” according to a press releases from the zoo.
Tomlin did recognize Woodland’s pride in being associated with the AZA, however a guideline of the AZA disturbed Tomlin that required space for elephants outdoors to be equivalent to a three car garage and indoors she said something as big as a 20 x 20 room.
“That cut the legs off for me just to see the words AZA accreditation, it began to mean so little,” Tomlin said. “Why would a zoo be prideful to be associated with an organization that set forth those guidelines. I don’t think that anyone in their right mind would think that this is an appropriate space for an elephant, the earth’s largest land mammal.”
Woodland Park Zoo responded by saying, “Ms. Tomlin has voiced her desire to have us truck our elephants 2,500 miles from their home here in Seattle to a sanctuary in Tennessee, despite having no firsthand knowledge about the excellent care provided for our elephants.”
Woodland said that they see these animals as a vital link to educate visitors, help visitors make emotional connections and change behaviors that positively impact elephants and other wildlife conservation.
“Why I’m here is to try and reach more people,” Tomlin said. “It’s pretty simple black and white issues, there’s just not enough space. It’s not the zoos or the animal keeper's fault, but of course when they get there they have to do what the system provides and you become conditioned to do that."
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