If you live in King County, you should have received your ballots and voter’s guide for the upcoming primary and special election on August 6. Among the city council, mayor, and other public official positions up for your vote, there are a few measures on the ballot. One that deserves some special consideration is King County Proposition No. 1, which we at the NARN board encourage you to vote NO.
Proposition 1 is a levy meant to provide funding for King County-operated parks and recreational facilities. It also provides 7% of the levy collection to be earmarked for the Woodland Park Zoological Society. According to the figures provided by King County, they estimate that $4.2 million per year would support the Woodland Park Zoo. Using the last budget figures provided by the Zoo — a projected operating cost of $32.9 million — the levy would contribute roughly 1/8 of its budget.
Now, anyone familiar with our Friends of the Woodland Park Zoo Elephants campaign, or have seen the critical Seattle Times expose of the Zoo, knows that the zoo has stubbornly refused to release their elephants to a sanctuary when all evidence has pointed to the fact that the Zoo is incapable of providing the basic necessities for elephants.
While any visit to any zoo will feature a vast array of bored, lonely, listless animals cooped up for the entertainment of people, elephants like Bamboo, Chai, and Watoto at the WPZ pose particular problems that zoos aren’t able to address. Elephants are very social creatures, forming life-time bonds with parents, offspring, friends, relatives in the wild, but are separated when they are captured in the wild or taken from their families as babies when born in captivity; they require the space that only freedom provides, sometimes walking as many as 50 miles a day, with home ranges in the hundreds of square miles. Zoos are cramped and lonely places for them, with indoor facilities measured in feet, not miles, and an outdoor range of one half to three acres. And owing to the cold and wet climates of much of the US (including here in the Pacific Northwest), compared to the hot and dry climates of their habitat in Asia and Africa, this means that elephants like the ones in Woodland Park spend a majority of their time indoors.
Zoos will do just about anything to avoid having to admit that they may not be able to adequately care for an animal, and Woodland Park Zoo is no exception. Despite the increased public concern that the WPZ is not the right place for elephants, they steadfastly refuse to budge on the issue. They, like any other zoo, do not want to admit that any information that comes out about the conditions can actually force a zoo to release an animal to a sanctuary. That is why they continually whitewash the obvious concerns, and why the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the governing body of the zoo industry, refuses to acknowledge the existence of a natural-habitat refuge like the Elephant Sanctuary of Hohenwald, Tennesee. To do so would be a fatal admission that an animal would be healthier and happier while living elsewhere.
While zoos insist their main focus is education and conservation, animals on display merely serve as profit-making attractions; their “conservation” programs arguably serves to actually diminish the population of animals in the wild, as fertile females are taken from their natural habitat to provide baby animals for zoos which attract more paying visitors. And even their captive breeding programs are largely unsuccessful; Chai of the Woodland Park Zoo, for example, has undergone 112 attempts to forcibly impregnate her, even against recommendations to not do so since she has the elephant herpes virus. She has had numerous miscarriages, and her last birth, a female elephant named Hansa, died at the age of 6 in 2007 of the herpes virus that was passed onto her.
While claims are made by zoos like Woodland Park of the value of their education and conservation programs, a study funded by the AZA “Why Zoos and Aquariums Matter: Assessing the Impact of a Visit to a Zoo or Aquarium,” reports that there was no statistically significant change in “overall knowledge”. Instead, social scientists found that zoo visits actually “reinforced” and “supported” the pre-existing attitude and values of guests. (1) Their claims of “conservation” is meaningless as animals bred in zoos are never released, and will never be released, to replenish the ones lost in the wild, and animals in captivity have up to half the life expectancy of those in their natural habitats.
Zoos like the Woodland Park Zoo are poor investments of public money, so you can show your disapproval by voting NO for King County Proposition 1. Obviously a concern about this levy is its primary funding for the county-operated parks and other outdoor areas, and it is hard to vote against the continued maintenance of our valuable green space–particularly since such levies are now the primary source of funding for the King County parks and recreation division; the King County general fund support for that division was eliminated as of 2011. This levy is meant to continue funding after the expiration of the 2008-2013 voter-approved operations and maintenance levy, of which approximately 70% of the operating budget of the parks was provided.
Parks levies enjoy popular support–each one regarding park operations and maintenance (from both King County and Seattle) brought to the voters have passed. The last levy proposed by King County in 2007, Proposition No. 2 – Open Space, Regional Trails, and Woodland Park Zoo levy, passed 59-41%. With such popular support, this levy stands a very high probability of passing, but through your vote of NO, the margin of support will diminish, and we can then demonstrate the public concern about using our money to fund failed education and conservation programs of the Woodland Park Zoo. In the unlikely event of this levy failing to pass, we can as citizens of King County then provide that as proof of our unwillingness of using public funds for the Zoo, and we can demand instead a levy for the parks that does not provide allocations to the Zoo.
Don’t forget to mail in your ballet by August 6, and to vote NO on King County Proposition No. 1. Thank you.
(1) “Why Zoos and Aquariums Matter: Assessing the Impact of a Visit to a Zoo or Aquarium,” (Falk, Rienhard, Vernon, Bronnenkant, et al., 2007, p. 10).