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Task force to begin probe of Woodland Park Zoo elephants

A task force examining the Woodland Park Zoo's elephants and exhibits will meet for the first time this week in Seattle. (Ryan Hawk/Woodland Park Zoo)

A diverse panel of noted community and business leaders and animal experts will come together this week in Seattle for the first time to begin examining the future of elephants at Woodland Park Zoo.

The task force was requested by the Seattle City Council amidst numerous complaints and legal challenges over the zoo’s three elephants that have gone on for years.

The Elephant Task Force is chaired by Jan Hendrickson, co-founder of Denny Hill Capital and a former zoo board chair, and Jay Manning, an environmental attorney and former chief of staff to Gov. Christine Gregoire.

The panel will evaluate the zoo’s elephant program and exhibit, the health and care of the three aging elephants, and the value of the program to the zoo’s overall objectives.

“We want to know what is best for these animals from a zoo perspective and from a conservation perspective,” City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw told The Seattle Times following a series highly critical of keeping elephants in captivity. The Zoo board agreed and created the panel.

The task force will send a report on its findings to the council following a series of public meetings and other fact finding.

Among the notables on the 15 member panel announced Tuesday are former Bellevue Mayor Grant Degginger, Pacific Science Center CEO Bryce Seidl, philanthropist Jeannie Nordstrom, PAWS executive director Annette Laico, and Dr. Bryan Slinker, dean of the college of veterinary medicine at Washington State University.

“Science has shown now that elephants are not good candidates for captivity,” said Lisa Kane, an elephant advocate who collaborates with Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants in a recent interview with KIRO Radio’s Rachelle Belle. The organization has led the effort to transfer the elephants to a sanctuary.

“I like zoos, I think they are an important way for people to be linked to wildlife,” she said. “But there are some animals that don’t flourish in zoos. When we recognize that, and there’s evidence of it, then I think it’s important to act on it.”

Zoo officials have repeatedly defended their treatment of the elephants. In a past interview with KIRO Radio’s Ross and Burbank Show, COO Bruce Bohmke insisted the animal’s care is a paramount concern and their spaces are more than adequate, despite criticisms to the contrary.

“They can lay down, they can dig, they can move around and manipulate their environment; that’s what’s important to animals…to behave naturally,” he said.

The task force will hold its initial public meeting Thursday April 18 from 4-7 pm at the Seattle Public Library downtown branch.

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