15 June 2011

Seattle taxpayers file appeal for right to sue city over cruelty at zoo

A pair of concerned citizens in Seattle felt they had the right to sue the city over the cruel treatment of elephants at the Woodland Park Zoo since the facility is supported by taxpayer money. Unfortunately for the taxpaying duo, Mary Sebek and Nancy Farnam, on May 27 the King County Superior Court disagreed and dismissed their lawsuit claiming they did not have legal standing.

But with help from the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), Sebek and Farnam are appealing the decision to the Washington State Court of Appeals.

So is the treatment of elephants at the Woodland Park Zoo really that bad? Well if you believe the claims outlined by ALDF, the answer would be a resounding yes.

According to the non-profit:

In the wild, elephants would walk and forage for many miles, but Bamboo, Watoto, and Chai’s exhibit is far too small to allow them to engage in natural behaviors, and on many nights, one of the elephants is locked in an area too small for them to even turn around. The lack of room to move and the outdoor surface of hard-packed sand and dirt have caused chronic, extremely painful injuries to the elephants’ feet and joints which often require medication and surgical intervention. Meanwhile, the Zoo seeks to treat its female elephants as breeding machines—Chai has been artificially inseminated at least fifty-seven times—most recently, just last week, according to news reports—and has suffered multiple miscarriages resulting in physical and psychological pain. Chai’s only live birth, Hansa, died an extremely painful death when she was only six years old from an elephant herpes virus as a result of the Zoo’s practices. The elephants’ stereotypic behavior, including pacing and “swaying,” so often seen by visitors to the Woodland Park Zoo, is in fact an indication of severe psychological distress.
“Shamefully, the Woodland Park Zoo continues to use taxpayer money to exploit its elephants while failing to provide them with adequate care,” said ALDF Executive Director Stephen Wells.

Bearing in mind that city of Seattle owns the zoo and taxpayer money is used to fund operations it appears, at least on the surface, that the court should take the treatment of the animals into consideration.

Admittedly, though, I am not a lawyer and only play one on the internet occasionally but it sounds plausible.

As far as the chances for a victorious outcome Mr. Wells said, “We are confident that the Court of Appeals will agree that Seattle’s taxpayers may sue under Washington State law to prevent the City from funding the illegally cruel treatment of elephants.”

Eric Fortney | @elfortney | email
Eric is the co-founder and executive editor of the animal rights and eco-friendly news source, This Dish Is Veg. In addition to his work at TDIV, Eric is a father of three, runner, and lover of the outdoors.

Photo credit:cc:flickr.com/photos/craterdweller