A news blog for Seattle's Phinney Ridge and Greenwood neighborhoods


Lily Tomlin says keeping elephants in zoos ‘cruel’

April 27th, 2009 · Comments

Actress Lily Tomlin today said keeping elephants at any zoo “is selfish and very cruel.”

After performing in Tacoma last night, she spoke at a press conference at the Phinney Neighborhood Association this morning because she wants Bamboo, Chai and Watoto from Woodland Park Zoo sent to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee, where they would have room to roam. She says the one-acre enclosure at WPZ is much too small for an animal that’s meant to roam up to 10 miles a day.

Tomlin says she gradually became interested in the plight of elephants in zoos over the last few years, and began educating herself. After seeing videos and reading medical reports from various zoos, she became convinced that elephants should not be kept in zoos.

“I realized common-sensically that zoos could never meet those needs… simply because of lack of space. There simply is not enough room at the Woodland Park Zoo for the animals to live and thrive.”

She says elephants need a large space to walk around to relieve the pressure on their joints. Otherwise, they can develop arthritis and severe foot disease.

Alyne Fortgang with Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants (FOWPZE) says that when she heard Tomlin would be in town, she contacted her publicist. “I just asked and she said yes. I think her words were, ‘I’ll do anything I can,'” Fortgang said.

Fortgang says WPZ gives good care to its elephants, but without changing the core issue of lack of space, they’ll continue to get foot disease and be bored. Fortgang says that while the zoo claims they want to educate children to help protect elephants in the wild, what they’re really doing is “teaching children that it’s acceptable to keep elephants in bad conditions.”

Tomlin visited Woodland Park Zoo for the first time this morning and said the elephant enclosure and the animals’ behavior was exactly what she expected after reading reports and seeing video provided by FOWPZE.

“I know so much about elephants that it’s always grim,” Tomlin told me after the press conference. “I didn’t expect to see much. I just knew what it would be.”

Tomlin said she’s aware that some people would write off her interest as just a celebrity stunt.

“It’s true I am a celebrity and it’s true I’ve never scraped dead tissue off an elephant’s painfully infected foot, and I don’t know why anyone would be able to do that over and over again without asking why it happens,” she says.

She says she loves Seattle, and visits often to perform and see friends, but can’t imagine why such a progressive city can’t figure out a better way to educate people about elephants.

“Several major zoos around the country have already closed their elephant exhibits because they know they do not work,” she says, citing zoos in San Francisco and her hometown of Detroit. “The net result of keeping elephants in zoos is mostly death.”

Tomlin would prefer to see some kind of state-of-the-art virtual elephant exhibit at WPZ to teach people about elephants. “Kids have never seen a dinosaur but they know as much about dinosaurs as they could possibly know about any animal in the zoo,” she says. “I’m really here to try to reach more people. To me it’s just a black and white issue… to do the right thing.”

After the press conference, Woodland Park Zoo sent this statement:

Lily Tomlin may know comedy, but she doesn’t know our elephants at Woodland Park Zoo.

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.

As an accredited institution of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA), Woodland Park Zoo meets or exceeds rigorous AZA Standards for Elephant Management and Care. These standards are more stringent than those of regulatory agencies and USDA, making them the highest standards for elephant care that exist.

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. The zoo’s general curator is an expert in elephant reproductive physiology; and our elephant curator has more than 25 years working in elephant programs and is an administrator and instructor for Association of Zoos & Aquariums’ (AZA) “Principles of Elephant Management” course.

We ensure the needs of our elephants, both physical and psychological. We provide our elephants with excellent nutrition, exercise, veterinary care, and environmental enrichment that provides exercise and mental stimulation in an award-winning naturalistic exhibit.

Woodland Park Zoo and AZA-accredited institutions are dedicated to keeping elephants from becoming extinct. Elephants are under extreme pressure from habitat loss and poaching. The most widespread and difficult issue to tackle in elephant conservation is human-elephant conflict, particularly in Asia.

In AZA-accredited zoos, these awe-inspiring animals are a vital link to educate visitors, help visitors make emotional connections, and change behaviors that positively impact elephant and other wildlife conservation. If elephants can only be seen by limited numbers of people in the wild, and we don’t see them or learn about the danger to them, these magnificent animals will disappear forever from our planet.

For more information about Woodland Park Zoo’s elephants, visit www.zoo.org/elephants/index.html.

Tags: Uncategorized


  1. michael says:

    Zoos were useful before the internet as an educational tool and a place to retire circus animals.

    I believe they no longer benefit neighborhoods in a truly sustainable way.

  2. Neighbor says:

    Very nice to see our hard-working, well-educated zoo staff told off by a has-been Hollywood type. Heavens to blog!

    Also: Did you know the net result of life is mostly death?

    And if elephants need more space, we have PLENTY of unsold units in this neck of town.

  3. Magpie says:

    Uhmmm, I guess I missed the part where any of us supposed to care what a has been Hollywood type thinks about anything…let alone our zoo?

    What insight can the woman who is still playing Edith Ann for laughs bring to this issue? And why is it even an issue anyway?

    Back to LA with you Miss Tomlin…and leave our elephants to the care of people who are well educated on the subject.

    On a side note, has anyone seen this rant by Lily Tomlin on the set of I Heart Huckabees?


    Really makes me think she is a credible source of information. Not.

  4. EnduroDriver says:

    Well michael I guess you could make the same argument for schools, concerts, art exhibits, kite flying, dog shows, boating, restaurants……

    You can watch and read about all those things on the internet so there isn’t any reason for any humans to participate in those activities any longer. Right?

    Of course not, you need to experience these things to appreciate them, to be inspired by them. Granted it would be nice if we could take all our children on day trips to all the native habitats of all the animals in the zoo but that’s just not practical or safe for that matter.

    The exhibit at the zoo might not be the best in the world but at least they are not being slaughtered as they are in their native environment. It’s quite possible that zoos might soon be the only safe place left for elephants in the world. I’m sure the zoo would love to expand the exhibit but all the NIMBYs would want to block it for one reason or another.

  5. Zoo Neighbor says:

    Animal Planet on the Discovery Channel doesn’t come close to the experience of seeing an animal in real life.

  6. Stupid Hippie says:

    Elephants? What about the poor penguins and salamanders? I hear the penguins are waterboarded every morning by the camp guards at WPZ and then exposed to freezing water. Guantanmao on Phinney!

    Have you seen the reptile room? Putting a snake on one of those tanks is like stuffing a human into a Fini condo. Horrible!

    I want to thank Lily for coming to help. What better spokesman for the elephants than someone who can be confused for an elephant’s wrinkled back side?

    Free the elephants….NOW!

  7. Tahomajim says:

    Friends, neighbors, and zoofans, you said it all and are correct. Rationational discussion, positive outlook.

    If we want our zoo we’re going to have to protect it from present day animal rights activists who have an agenda all zoos “are cruel and torture their animals.”

    I attended todays press conference. 32 people attended, twelve men, twenty women and that included 12 from the news media!The news media made up over 33% of the attendees.

    It was hype and sensationalism, not much real news. Only a rehash of how the WPZ is cruel to it’s elephants and that’s just a bunch of cow poop…. make that elephant

    From blog reaction less than 25% support FOWPZE. I think they are nice caring people who entitled to their opinion, even though it’s a wrong one.

  8. Tahomajim says:

    How about taking the elephants for a walk through the park to Greenlake once a week. Is that a stupid idea Mr. Hippie?

    Wait a minute, they might squish a few slugs along the way…. we can’t have that can we?

  9. Julie says:

    No matter what you think of animals in zoo, people should at least research all the facts. The zoo isn’t about making money – it is a non-profit. Also they, and every zoo that participates in the species survival program, is involved in conservation programs to protect wild animals in their habitat. Check out the Conservation report at:


    WPZ programs are especially focused on working with local people so that both the people and the animals benefit.

  10. Neighbor says:

    Blah blah blah. Enough about elephants. How about something about the mugging right in front of the zoo’s parking lot on Friday night?!?

  11. Megan the Vegan says:

    Guantanamao is a non-profit too.

    Time to stop all animal exploitation; time to teach the lions and tigers the wonders of lentils and soy.

  12. Mr. B in Ballard says:

    I agree with Neighbor. This isn’t really news – just a B rate celeb mouthing off.

    In other news – is this the only news conference ever held in the PNA center?

  13. Tahomajim says:

    Mr. Ballard, welcome to the blog. You’re exactly right! I can’t agree more.

  14. Tahomajim says:

    Megan the Vagan you crack me up.

    You are certainly funnier than ol Lily Tomlin and probably a better spokesperson.

  15. ZooElephantsHaveHerpes says:

    Comment #7:
    “I attended todays press conference. 32 people attended, twelve men, twenty women and that included 12 from the news media!The news media made up over 33% of the attendees.”

    There is a reason why it’s called a “press conference” — it’s so you may address multiple media outlets at one time, thus the presence of news media.

    I don’t wish ill-will toward any of the 41 zoo board members or their collection of elephant curators or teams of artificial inseminators. I do wish they would let these elephants live out their days with the ability to roam great distances and forage and swim in the lake at the Tennessee sanctuary.

    If the elephants could talk, I would bet they would say that the sanctuary looks real, real good.

  16. Megan the Vegan says:

    “artificial inseminators.”

    End torture with turkey basters NOW!

  17. Tahomajim says:

    ZooElephantsHaveHerpes — How cruel you are! Have YOU ever had a cold sore? If yes, you shoulde change your title to I’maZooelephanthatingtypewithHerpes.

    FYI, I’ve attened at least 500 press conferences in my life. You get a “C” grade for this one. The noise upstairs… kids “with too little space” (send them to Tennessee)! Three panel members fumbling over their dialog, making statements they had to retract because they sounded stupid. Do you remember?
    Your press release went out on the internet dear one. That means you opened it to the information highway, of which I’m a proud contributor.
    BTW, thank you for justifying my blog.
    Megan the Vagen, jump in here, I need ya. {:-)

  18. Tahomajim says:

    Megan the Vagen — oh my, you’re so romantic!

  19. Vagrant says:

    Probably an animal lover that gave the elephants herpes in the first place…..

  20. Tahomajim says:

    Yea, they think monogyny is a type of wood.

    Let’s move on… Joan Biaz is coming to our zoo!

    Anybody care to comment?

  21. ZooElephantsHaveHerpes says:

    ” Your press release went out on the internet dear one. That means you opened it to the information highway, of which I’m a proud contributor.”

    I haven’t written any press releases lately. What press release are you referring to? BTW it’s Baez not Biaz …

  22. ZooElephantsHaveHerpes says:

    … and Vegan, not VAGen …

  23. Fubar says:

    Oh, yes, by all means. Let’s free the elephants.

    But only if we can herd the bums from Ballard into their cages. They could use a good hosing down.

  24. Ken says:

    There are good points on both sides that deserve to be considered. Whichever side you’re on, thanks for trying to keep the discussion rational, mature, and fact-based.

  25. nwcitizen says:

    Ken, you are funny. Thanks for the smile.

  26. mamaC says:

    Ken, you crack me up!

  27. Wallingford Fashionista says:

    Lily Tomlin should probably worry less about elephants and more about her outdated hairstyle and frumpy outfit. Maybe then more people would show up to her “press conferences.”

  28. ZooElephantsHaveHerpes says:

    Funny. You people continue to attack Lily’s appearance in an effort to detract from the message she is helping to spread.

    Elephants in zoos die prematurely due to their inability to move and roam as intended.

    This has nothing to do with hair and clothes people. Grow up. Face reality.

    It’s time to sever the emotional ties to the zoo and act in the elephants’ interest. They’ve done their time – – now we should give them some peace and freedom.

  29. ZooElephantsHaveTheClap says:

    “It’s time to sever the emotional ties to the zoo and act in the elephants’ interest.”

    Go ahead, the place is always packed. The fewer animal rights nut jobs around the better.

  30. ZooElephantsHaveHerpes says:

    Empty minds … I feel sorry for you people who have to attach the “nut job” label onto those of us who want to make it better for animals … sad.

    I’m not anti-zoo — really. I’m glad the place is packed. I’m not hoping to close the zoo or anything.

    But they are responsible for the constant illnesses and premature deaths of their elephants and it’s simply not right. That’s it. No agenda to close the zoo.

  31. .:MADI:. says:


    I may only be 13 yrs old, but i am studying crueltey on domestic animals and i have found out heeps on elephants. Most of my infomation is on crueltey so please


  32. elephant crazy dude says:

    madi is right it is horible to keep elephants locked up and exployted.

    so i am making a patition (if thats how you spell it) if you live in plamy (new zealand) come down to the west end skate park on the 23 of november to sign

    thx xoxox