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Chai Dies in OKC, Another Elephant Lost Too Young

i Jan 31st by

tombstone_elephantsThe zookeeper who found Chai dead in her Oklahoma City cell this weekend thought she looked peaceful.

That might be the first time Chai was at peace since being taken from her mother at the age of one in Thailand. She was beaten at one location, then artificially inseminated 112 times in Seattle, where she also lost her 6-year-old daughter, Hansa, to herpes — a disease that’s ravaged young elephants in zoos for decades.

Chai also suffered from the pacing and swaying (here in Seattle) that’s indictive of the extreme trauma, stress and boredom that so many smart, social animals in captivity endure.

Zoo officials said the average life expectancy for an Asian elephant is 47. That’s in  captivity. In the wild, Chai would be in the prime of her life, as Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants point out.

Malee, a 3-year-old elephant, died of herpes in Oklahoma City last fall.

When zoo CEO Deborah Jensen bucked Seattle residents’ and the mayor’s wishes to send Chai and Bamboo to a sanctuary, and instead sent them to suffer in another zoo, she went against the wisdom of one of her predecessors and Lyn Tangen, from the Woodland Park Zoo Elephant Task Force, who wrote: “No one can seriously doubt that elephants that have 15 or more acres to roam are better off than elephants crammed into a 1 or 2 acre exhibit in a zoo…. In the 21st century, Seattle has better ways to save wild elephants and their habitats than continuing to keep Chai and Bamboo at a zoo.”

Jensen, who was a huge success in the captive-elephant-loving Association of Zoos and Aquariums,  is blessedly no longer in charge of the zoo.

Now Bamboo is alone in Oklahoma City, trying to integrate with a herd after an unsuccessful integration attempt years ago.