An Asian elephant named Chai – whose confinement in Woodland Park Zoo, Wa., was for many years a topic of controversy among Seattle residents – passed away, just one year after she was moved to Oklahoma City Zoo. It is not yet known exactly what caused her death, but many believe that the stresses of lifelong captivity could have contributed to it.


“She should have been in the prime of her life, she’s only 37 years old,” pointed out Lisa Kane, a member of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants. “I’d like to see zoos put the interests of elephants first for a change, instead of their self-interest. Allow them to retire to sanctuaries.”

This is the second elephant death to occur at Oklahoma City Zoo in the past few months. Tara Henson, a spokesperson for the zoo, said, “I can’t say that they’re unrelated, because I’m not a veterinarian. But I can say that I don’t think we should be concerned about that.” However, the fact of the matter is that elephants were never meant to live in zoos. The facts show that wild elephants lead longer lives.


In the wild, these elephants live in closely bonded matriarchal herds, headed by the eldest, most experienced female. The members of the herd all work together to find food and rear their young. Elephants travel up to 50 miles a day, and are also capable of forming deep, lifelong bonds of love with their family members. They have often been witnessed grieving after their loved ones’ deaths.


Sadly, Chai never got to experience any semblance of a natural life, but was instead seen as an object to be used and manipulated by humans.


In 2012, an investigation by the Seattle Times found that zoo staff had tried and failed to artificially inseminate her a shocking 112 times. She bore just one daughter named Hansa, who died at the young age of six, after suffering from a deadly virus called Elephant Endotheliotopic Herpesvirus. At the time of her death, it was alleged that irresponsible breeding practices at the zoo had caused her to develop the virus. In Defense of Animals (IDA) said that the zoo “had long engaged in practices known to place Asian elephants at high risk for this nearly always fatal disease.”


The death of her only child was just one of a long list of traumatic incidents that Chai had to endure throughout her life. She also suffered from foot problems (an extremely common ailment among zoo elephants), colic, arthritis, and painful skin conditions. Because she was never able to get a whole lot of exercise in her one-acre enclosure, heart disease was a significant threat too. Obesity is a major problem for zoo elephants – in 2014, researchers at the University of Alabama revealed that around 40 percent of them were affected by it. Chai’s tragic story makes it clear just how unsuited these animals are to a life spent in captivity.

Hope for Bamboo

Concerns are now growing for Bamboo, the elephant with whom Chai shared an enclosure for most of her life. Animal activists in Seattle are calling for her to be sent to an accredited sanctuary, where she can live out the rest of her days in peace, rather than being put on display for human entertainment. According to Friends of Woodland Zoo Elephants, Bamboo is not doing well in the Oklahoma Zoo. Zookeepers hoped that Bamboo would become the matriarch of the captive herd, but that has not happened. Since her arrival at the zoo, Bamboo has attacked a calf, been bullied herself on multiple occasions, which has left her with serious injuries. She is often kept in isolation, which is very harmful to the mental well-being of elephants.


It is too late for anyone to help Chai, but we can only hope that these activists’ efforts to free Bamboo will be met with success.

To learn more about why elephants don’t belong in captivity – and why you should never pay to see one in a zoo – read the posts below.

Image Source: Seattle PI