Woodland Park Zoo's elephants headed to Oklahoma City for relocation

SEATTLE -- No, it's not the same as losing our Sonics to that dreaded city to the South and East. This is a good move, zoo officials say.

The Woodland Park Zoo's two female Asian elephants, 48-year-old Bamboo and 36-year-old Chai, are headed to the Oklahoma City Zoo to be part of a large Asian elephant population. Woodland Park Zoo officials anticipate the move coming between late March and April.

The move comes after the zoo announced in late 2014 that it would phase out its elephant program. The zoo came to the decision after several months of working to implement the recommendations of the Elephant Task Force, Woodland Park Zoo officials said, realizing that adding to the herd of two aging elephants is not realistic.

Since announcing a relocation in November, officials have decided Oklahoma as the best spot.

"Oklahoma City Zoo was found to best meet the criteria established by Woodland Park Zoo," officials said Friday. "Which was based on recommendations from animal welfare experts."

Officials said the Oklahoma zoo features a social and healthy heard of Asian elephants, a state-of-the-art facility, a healthy environment and high-caliber staff that could help keep the animals healthy. The zoo features 3.95 acres available for the elephants outdoors, as well as a technologically advanced bar and a large swimming pool.

"Oklahoma Zoo is the best choice and meets our requirements to provide the best social welfare in a healthy environment for Bamboo and Chai," Woodland Park Zoo President and CEO Dr. Deborah Jensen said.

The elephants will travel to Oklahoma City in individual, climate-controlled crates pulled by a tractor-trailer, officials said. The journey will take anywhere from 35 to 40 hours.

The local animal advocacy group, Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants, has not yet committed on the proposed move. Previously, they were opposed to sending the elephants to another zoo.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, came out against the move to Oklahoma City. The organization released the following statement:

"It's crucial for the well-being of elephants Chai and Bamboo that Mayor Ed Murray and the city council exercise their very clear legal authority to override the Woodland Park Zoo's misguided decision to transfer the elephants to The Oklahoma City Zoo rather than to the accredited sanctuary that stands ready to provide them with acres in which to roam and the care that they need."