Woodland Park Zoo just announced this afternoon that it will phase out its elephant program and send its two remaining elephants to other institutions accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums.
Here’s the zoo’s full press release:
“We remain committed to putting the welfare of our elephants first. After several months of working to implement the recommendations of the Elephant Task Force, we have found that adding to the herd of our two aging elephants is not realistic in the foreseeable future. It is in the best interest of Bamboo and Chai to live in a social, multi-animal herd in a healthy environment,” said Woodland Park Zoo’s President and CEO Dr. Deborah Jensen. “This can best be accomplished by relocating them to another accredited Association of Zoos & Aquariums facility that is held to exemplary standards of care. Having only one or two elephants at the zoo for the long term would work against the broader social welfare of Chai and Bamboo and we are committed to following the recommendations of elephant health and welfare experts.”
The Elephant Task Force–panel of local community representatives and internationally-distinguished scientists and animal care professionals–conducted a critical and thorough external review of the zoo’s elephant program in 2013.
The zoo will begin finding a new home for its two elephants, 47-year-old Bamboo and 35-year-old Chai, both female Asian elephants.
“We will ensure Bamboo and Chai will be relocated together to an Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) facility that shares our commitment to animal health and welfare and conservation through education, and provides viewing access to the animals. We have not identified a new home at this time but we expect to move them in 2015. They will be a part of our family for the rest of their lives and we will continue to follow their welfare at their new home,” added Jensen.
“It is a difficult decision to move these animals who have long played an important role as ambassadors for their species in the wild, but we could not have made it without the thoughtful and exhaustive work of the Elephant Task Force, the zoo’s Board of Directors and our staff. We will continue working with our elephant conservation partners in Borneo and Tanzania and the 96 Elephants campaign to help end the ivory trade,” said Jensen.
Approximately 139 Asian elephants currently live in AZA institutions. According to Woodland Park Zoo’s Chief Operations Officer Bruce Bohmke, North American elephant population management experts predicted a population decline based on a decade’s worth of research. Bohmke, who serves on the Steering Committee of the North American AZA Elephant Taxon Advisory Group and Species Survival Plan (TAG/SSP), said the decline is attributed to a number of factors including an aging population and limited reproduction. “In addition, because other zoos are expanding or building new exhibits, there are very few individual elephants to acquire. We recognize that the process of expanding existing herds is going to happen slowly, and that it may be a few decades before a sustainable population can be achieved,” said Bohmke.
Each year, the zoo reviews its animal programs, which include physical and behavioral health and care, and makes decisions to continue, phase out or introduce new animals based on an extensive set of criteria, explained Bohmke. In 2012, the zoo phased out its African wild dog and Malayan sun bear exhibits.
In May 2015, Malayan tigers will be introduced to a new, dynamic exhibit for tigers and sloth bears. The state-of-the-art complex will empower and inspire visitors with up-close animal encounters, hands-on learning, and links to meaningful conservation actions visitors can take to build a better future for wildlife.