Storm diverts Oklahoma-bound Seattle elephants to San Diego

AP News
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Posted: Apr 17, 2015 11:34 PM

SEATTLE (AP) — Two aging female elephants that a Seattle zoo dispatched earlier this week on a 2,000-mile road trip to a new home at an Oklahoma zoo have been diverted by a storm — and are now resting at the San Diego Zoo, the Woodland Park Zoo said Friday.

The elephant caravan had to change course in Salt Lake City because of a storm in Colorado and Wyoming that was expected to grow worse, the Seattle zoo said in an email.

"Because the reroute would have extended the trip a day longer, a decision was made for veterinary precautions to go to San Diego Zoo and allow the elephants to rest," the Seattle zoo said.

Bamboo, 48, and Chai, 36, arrived Friday afternoon at the California zoo, which has an elephant herd of its own. They will be in quarantine while there.

When the elephants left Seattle on Wednesday evening en route to the Oklahoma City Zoo, officials estimated the trip would take 35 to 40 hours. They are being sent on a long-term loan.

Woodland Park says San Diego Zoo vets found the elephants to be tired and showing signs of muscle stiffness.

An extra day on the road "would have been challenging for Bamboo and Chai," Woodland Park mammal curator Martin Ramirez said, adding that the San Diego Zoo had an expert elephant and veterinary staff, room for two more elephants and the appropriate equipment to unload them from their climate-controlled crates that had been loaded on a flatbed truck.

Ramirez said he didn't know how long the elephants would stay in San Diego.

Woodland Park Zoo spokeswoman Gigi Allianic said Friday evening that the Seattle zoo consulted other zoos but San Diego was the only one that "had everything we needed right away."

"Other zoos closer to Salt Lake either didn't have available space or necessary equipment on site," she said.

Three elephant experts, two veterinarians and three staffers with the transportation consultant have been traveling with the elephants.

The elephants left Seattle on the same day a federal appeals court declined to block their transfer, despite appeals by activists who wanted them sent to a sanctuary. Seattle zoo officials have said the elephants will be able to join a larger, multigenerational herd in Oklahoma City. The zoo has said the transfer will also give the pair more space.

Activists worried that the long trip could endanger the elephants' health and that their quality of life in Oklahoma would be worse than in Seattle. The legal battle was part of the broader debate about whether housing elephants in zoos is humane, with critics arguing the large animals need more space than zoos can provide.

"It seems rather odd they rushed out of Seattle with not the best forecast," said Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of the Elephant Justice Project. "They could have kept them here a few more days until the weather cleared."

Woodland Park told The Seattle Times that the elephants left Wednesday because the equipment was on site, the transportation consultant was available and the elephants were ready. The zoo said it checked weather conditions and considered them favorable.

Dr. Dwight Lawson, Oklahoma City Zoo director and CEO, said his team "stands ready to assist in any capacity."