SEATTLE (AP) — A judge declined Friday to block the transfer of Woodland Park Zoo's two elephants, putting them closer to a new home at an Oklahoma zoo.
Animal-welfare activists vowed to continue their fight to have the aging female elephants moved to a sanctuary.
King County Superior Court Judge Palmer Robinson said she didn't think the activists could win a court case contending that the city of Seattle — and not the Woodland Park Zoological Society — owns the animals. The judge also refused to grant a two-week stay to delay the move.
"Of course we're disappointed, but we're not going to stop fighting to get Chai and Bamboo to a sanctuary," said Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of the Elephant Justice Project. A lawsuit pending in federal court in Seattle also seeks to block the planned transfer to the Oklahoma City Zoo. Activists' arguments in that case center around the Endangered Species Act.
Woodland Park Zoo has agreed not to move the elephants before April 8.
Zoo CEO Deborah Jensen said after Friday's hearing that she's not sure when the actual move will take place. "It is important to move our elephants in a timely manner for their welfare. This decision allows us to move forward with our plans to place Chai and Bamboo with a new multigenerational family at Oklahoma City Zoo," Jensen said in a statement Friday afternoon.
The activists contend the long trip to Oklahoma would endanger the elephants' health and that their quality of life there would be worse than in Seattle.
The legal action is part of the broader debate about whether housing elephants in zoos is humane, with activists arguing the large animals need more space to roam than zoos can provide.
The zoo contends that it has the authority to move the elephants and that the transfer will give the pair more space and allow them to be part of a larger herd. The zoo has said it considered a number of U.S. zoos with Asian elephants before deciding the Oklahoma City Zoo was the best choice.
In court documents filed last week, the zoo's attorneys urged the court to deny the preliminary injunction, saying any delay could jeopardize the ability to transport the elephants during the best spring weather when it's not too hot or too cold for the animals.
The Seattle City Council passed an ordinance in December 2001 transferring the management and ownership of the zoo to the nonprofit Woodland Park Zoological Society. The city acted within its authority, and the agreement with the zoo did not violate any state law, the zoo's attorneys said.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and a majority of the Seattle City Council have asked that the zoo consider sending the elephants to a sanctuary — or a home where they would have more space per animal and live in a warmer climate.
The mayor's spokesman has said Murray is disappointed in the decision to move the elephants but adds that it's the zoo's choice to determine whether the animals go.
The zoo estimates it will cost $111,000 to ship the two elephants in climate-controlled crates on the back of a flatbed tractor-trailer for the 2,000-mile journey. The elephants would be on a long-term loan.