October 7, 2014

Zoo receives necropsy report for elderly African elephant Watoto

Woodland Park Zoo has received the necropsy (an animal autopsy) report for its female African elephant, Watoto, who died in August at 45 years.

According to the zoo’s Director of Animal Health, Dr. Darin Collins, the most relevant finding from the pathology report was the chronic, age-related arthritis in the elephant’s leg joints, which had been described during the post-mortem examination. Additional findings in other tissues examined, such as age-related changes in heart and muscles, were mild and within expected limits and were not life-threatening. There was no evidence of an infectious disease process, in the joints or in other tissues examined. In addition, the pathologist did not find any evidence for a herpesvirus infection.

Read the press release

September 8, 2014

Setting the Record Straight:

The Facts about Woodland Park Zoo Elephants

Woodland Park Zoo loves our elephants Chai and Bamboo, and we deeply mourn the loss of their herd mate, Watoto. Her recent death sent waves of grief through our community of staff, volunteers, members and guests. She was part of our family and will forever be honored in our memories.

Woodland Park Zoo’s elephant program continues to spark dialogue in our community. Productive dialogue has led to positive change, including the creation of the community-based Elephant Task Force, which concluded our elephants are in good physical and emotional health, and recommended some improvements to our program already underway. 

Unfortunately, this dialogue is being colored by inflammatory campaigns from local and national activist groups and the media they garner. These campaigns rely on alarming sound bites that confuse and mislead well-intentioned people and mischaracterize the zoo as profit-driven and entertainment-focused. We are a conservation- and education-based nonprofit whose earnings are reinvested in our mission to “save animals and their habitats through conservation leadership and engaging experiences, inspiring people to learn, care and act.” 

Woodland Park Zoo is a community-based organization that remains open to dialogue, and while we certainly respect personal conviction related to animals, we believe you deserve to draw your conclusions based on accurate information. 

We invite you to spend a few minutes reading and absorbing the following counterpoints to misleading arguments published in the most recent action alert issued by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). 

Get the facts about Woodland Park Zoo elephants


August 25, 2014

Woodland Park Zoo asks community to remember African elephant Watoto

SEATTLE – Woodland Park Zoo held a press conference Friday, August 22 to discuss the details of African elephant Watoto’s unexpected death. The zoo regretfully announced the 45-year-old elephant was humanely euthanized late Friday morning. With an outpouring of support, Woodland Park Zoo encourages the community to remember Watoto by taking action to save her species, which is imperiled in the wild.

“This is a very difficult time for our zoo family as we mourn the loss of Watoto, a beloved animal and dear friend to our staff and volunteers, members and community,” said Bruce Bohmke, Woodland Park Zoo’s Chief Operations Officer. “Watoto has lived a long, healthful life at Woodland Park Zoo under the care of dedicated keepers and staff. We will all miss her greatly.”

Read the full update.



May 13, 2014

As seen in The Seattle Times

Guest: Woodland Park Zoo takes good care of its elephants

By Nancy Pellegrino and Laurie Stewart, Special to The Times, May 13, 2014


"Many assertions have been made lately about the Woodland Park Zoo and its elephant program without consideration of some critical facts. A few extremists have gone so far as to ask the zoo to end its elephant program.

The zoo’s governing board, including members appointed by the Seattle mayor and City Council, offers the public a different viewpoint."

Read the full article


March 28, 2014

Announcement: Zoo to expand elephant program and create all-Asian herd

$1.5 to $3 million commitment for improvements to exhibit and conservation

Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ) announced today that over the next five years, the zoo will commit $1.5 to $3 million to strengthen the Asian elephant program and increase the number of Asian elephants at the zoo, as well as play a key role in multiple elephant conservation arenas.

Approved this week by the WPZ Board of Directors, the zoo’s pledge follows a six-month, critical and thorough external review of its elephant program by the Elephant Task Force—a panel of local community representatives and internationally-distinguished scientists and animal care professionals—and a review of the Task Force’s report by the zoo’s Board and staff.

The new strategic direction of the zoo’s elephant program endorses many of the options given to the zoo by the Elephant Task Force, plus additional information regarding the zoo’s elephants, elephant conservation and education efforts. Key elements of the program entail:

  • Focusing the zoo’s Elephant Forest exhibit on the highly endangered Asian elephant species and growing the zoo’s program to support and implement the goals of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for Asian elephants, which is managed by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA). To this end, WPZ staff has initiated the process of working with AZA institutions to identify Asian elephants that can join Woodland Park Zoo and is optimistic about adding to the herd in the near future.
  • Making significant improvements to the Elephant Forest exhibit and facilities.
  • Playing an active role in the Wildlife Conservation Society’s international 96 Elephants conservation campaign: securing effective U.S. moratorium laws on ivory sales and bolstering elephant protection with additional advocacy funding; and educating the public about the devastating effects of the ivory trade.
  • Increasing the zoo’s commitment to Asian elephant conservation with our partner organizations in range countries.
  • Developing enhanced guest experiences and educational programming in the Elephant Forest exhibit, allowing guests to interact with the zoo’s elephants and staff, and learning how they can make an impact in elephant conservation.
  • Providing leadership to the next phase of AZA elephant welfare research and applied practices.

“The zoo’s board and staff have invested months into carefully deliberating the findings of the Elephant Task Force, designing a vision that serves the best interests of each of our elephants and that helps ensure a future for elephants in zoos and in the wild. The Woodland Park Zoo board is so committed to advancing the elephant program that the board unanimously approved committing $500,000 to immediately put the plan in motion and make this vision a reality,” said Board Chair Nancy Pellegrino. This first phase of funding will be used to launch design planning on the exhibit and enhance conservation efforts focusing most immediately on the illegal ivory crisis.

Two female Asian elephants, 47-year-old Bamboo and 35-year-old Chai, and one female African, 45-year-old Watoto, currently live at the zoo.

“Since our strategic direction is now focused on Asian elephants, staff will begin formulating a plan to integrate Watoto, our one African elephant, into a herd at another AZA-accredited institution,” stated Dr. Nancy Hawkes, the zoo’s general curator.

While the zoo will focus its program on Asian elephants, it remains committed to preserving both African and Asian elephant species in the wild through field conservation partnerships. Woodland Park Zoo President and CEO Dr. Deborah Jensen stated that Woodland Park Zoo will bolster its advocacy by participating in the Wildlife Conservation Society’s 96 Elephants campaign, named for the number of African elephants currently gunned down each day by poachers. The zoo will work with the 96 Elephants campaign to stop the killing, stop the trafficking and stop the demand for ivory.

“Our vision is to make an impact on reducing human-elephant conflict in the world, ending the ivory trade, and inspiring a growing respect for sharing the planet with these awe-inspiring animals,” said Jensen. “Conserving wildlife is very complex, and we recognize that we can be a critical partner in carrying out the necessary actions to ensure a healthy future for the world’s elephants.”

Next steps include implementing a design process for physical improvements to the elephant exhibit to build on the physical and behavioral health, and social well-being of the animals, including: adding greater flexibility to how animals enter and exit the barn, increasing the diversity of surfaces in the yard and barn even more than current, installing timed feeders in the yards and barn, expanding enrichment opportunities, increasing the complexity of the yard, adding supplemental wind/rain shelters and outdoor heating, and upgrading barn cams to allow for 24-hour monitoring.

“I’m very pleased that the zoo board has made a strong commitment to saving Asian elephants both at the zoo and in the wild,” said Jan Hendrickson, co-chair of the Elephant Task Force.

More information will be shared with the community as the zoo moves forward in its expansion of the elephant program. “We are grateful to the community and the Elephant Task Force for their passion for elephants and diligence in helping us remain focused and committed to playing an important role in preserving elephants into the future,” said Jensen.

Elephants in Our Future

  • Woodland Park Zoo has cared for elephants since it received its first elephant in 1921.
  • Only 25,600 to 32,750 Asian elephants are estimated to remain in 13 range countries in South Asia and Southeastern Asia.
  • In 1980, it was estimated there were 1.2 million African elephants. Throughout Africa, their numbers have plummeted by 76% since 1980, due largely to the demand of elephant ivory. An estimated 35,000 African elephants were slaughtered by poachers in 2012 alone. Today, there are fewer than 420,000.
  • As of September 2013, 71 institutions in the Species Survival Plan for AZA care for 310 Asian and African elephants in North America, and provide expertise and millions of dollars of support for on-ground elephant conservation and research projects in the wild, zoos and health facilities.
  • As leaders in animal welfare, AZA-accredited zoos are taking a leading role in fighting the illegal poaching of elephants for their ivory. The animals at these facilities play a key role in educating and inspiring 180 million people to take conservation action. In hard dollars, AZA-accredited institutions have spent more than one billion on field conservation projects over the last 10 years.


Woodland Park Zoo joins Wildlife Conservation Society in an international effort to end the illegal ivory trade that is fueling the elephant conservation crisis. 

Will you join the herd? 



Questions and Answers
Read through these commonly asked questions and answers to learn more.

Elephant Task Force website
Browse the materials of the Elephant Task Force.


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Elephant family in Kinabatangan, Hutan


Learn more about Woodland Park Zoo's elephant conservation work with its Partners for Wildlife in Asia and Africa.

Hutan Asian Elephant Conservation Project

Tanzania Wildlife Migration: Tarangire Elephants


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