OKLAHOMA CITY - Television icon Bob Barker, from The Price is Right, wants to make sure two elephants in Seattle are not transferred to the Oklahoma City Zoo.
Two female Asian elephants, 47-year-old Bamboo and 35-year-old Chai, and one female African, 45-year-old Watoto, currently live at the zoo.
Barker is urging Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and city council members to stop the transfer of elephants Chai and Bamboo from the Woodland Park Zoo to the Oklahoma City Zoo.
"We're trying to convince them that this is a mistake," said Barker in a phone interview with KFOR.
Barker doesn't believe the Oklahoma City Zoo is the best place for animals.
“When I heard about the plans to send Chai and Bamboo to the Oklahoma Zoo, I felt compelled to call the mayor personally and ask him to intervene on their behalf.” explained Bob Barker in a statement. “Moving elephants in the winter is very dangerous, an elephant named Wankie died under the same conditions in 2005. Additionally, Oklahoma Zoo is located in a climate that is too cold in the winter for elephants and in the heart of tornado alley, and they also have loud rock concerts at an amphitheatre located right near the elephants. Sending them there would move them from a bad situation to a dreadful one. The entire plan is irresponsible and cruel.”
According to Zoocheck, Barker is a lifelong animal advocate and he's played an integral role in several elephant rescues.
Zoocheck, along with Barker, are urging that the elephants be moved to the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary in California.
"This sanctuary that they're talking about is the nearest thing to an elephant's natural habitat," said Barker to KFOR. "It's acres and acres of land."
Woodland Park Zoo disagrees. They explained the decision on their website, stating the sanctuary '...does not have a yard or barns available today for Bamboo and Chai.'
The website also explains there is an active case of tuberculosis among the elephant herd at PAWS, and that the OKC Zoo is "the best choice and meets our requirements to provide the best social welfare in a healthy environment."
"We definitely have one of the best elephant facilities in the country," said Dr. Jennifer D'Agostino, Director of Veterinary Services for the OKC Zoo.
The Seattle Times reported that many supporters and opponents of the move crowded into a Seattle City Council meeting earlier this week to express their ideas on the matter.
Those who oppose the transfer believe a sanctuary would be a better place for the elephants because it would give them space to roam.
Those who favor the transfer pointed out that moving the elephants to Oklahoma City's state-of-the-art exhibit would allow them to be a part of Oklahoma City's herd.
“Space is not more important than a social environment,” said Kevin Schofield, a longtime zoo volunteer recently appointed to the zoo board of directors.
Woodland Park Zoo officials say they spent months evaluating where the Asian elephants should go.
“Oklahoma City Zoo is the best choice and meets our requirements to provide the best social welfare in a healthy environment for Bamboo and Chai,” said Woodland Park Zoo President and CEO Dr. Deborah Jensen. “They will have an opportunity to live and socialize with more elephants and they will continue to receive the same kind of exemplary care they received during their lifetime at Woodland Park Zoo.”
Oklahoma City Zoo officials believe the transfer will be good for the herd.
“Adding Bamboo and Chai will help round out our family. Their maturity plus experience with a baby will be valuable in broadening the social dynamics of our herd. We look forward to having these new members join our family,” said Dwight Lawson, Oklahoma City Zoo Executive Director/CEO.
According to the Woodland Park Zoo, experts have carefully planned out the 2,000 mile journey to Oklahoma City.
“We will take every precautionary measure to ensure that Bamboo and Chai arrive safely as we do for all of our animal transfers,” explained Ramirez. “Keepers from our expert elephant team and a veterinarian will follow in a car and we will have a contact list of zoo veterinarians and elephant care teams along the route in case of an emergency.”
The Woodland Park Zoo also assures everyone that they will not move the animals until it is safe.
“The timing of their departure will depend on the elephants’ readiness as well as ideal road conditions,” said Martin Ramirez, the zoo’s mammal curator.
The zoo believes relocating their elephants is the right decision.
“The decision to relocate our elephants is a difficult one for our staff, volunteers, members and zoo family, but it is the right decision. All of us care deeply about these animals and we will continue to have a lifelong investment in their health and welfare,” said Jensen. “We are very grateful to Oklahoma City Zoo for opening their arms to Bamboo and Chai. We are enthusiastic that Chai and Bamboo can join an elephant family in Oklahoma. This is a wonderful conclusion to a complicated chapter in their lives.”