Zoo Screw-Up Sends 2 Elderly Elephants 1,000 Miles Off Course

<p><a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/bgreenlee/8603852673/in/photolist-e7hZDt-8NxWbw-djYH5Q-dm2VNw-f6GuX-am2aDh-akZp8L-akWoXk-am2AF1-akZpPQ-akWBaX-akZd5L-akYoHx-famnZN-famiPh-famjgm-fa71Gp-famg51-akYKpK-akWoEV-fammaC-akYNXk-am2b2C-am2Eq1-am2Dpy-akYmtr-3JNqSs-3JJ7ht-3JNsLA-ogh5k-6gPL6g-ogivk-ogm6F-4wkpnk-4wkpwH-4ZtnHa-7L93RW-4ZxzMG-4ZxzPY-4ZtmV6-4ZxzSm-4ZtmWT-4ZxBao-4ZxzXS-chzPoq-e1myqU-akWrhe-akYpEH-am2dH1-4ZsomP">Flickr/Brad Greenlee</a></p>

Just as animal advocates had feared, the transport of two aging elephants across the U.S. hasn't gone smoothly for the animals.

The elephants, 48-year-old Bamboo and 36-year-old Chai, were crated up at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle on Wednesday. Public outcry had demanded they be removed from the facility, which has been criticized for its lack of adequate space and for a high incidence of herpes contraction in elephants. Instead of moving them to a sanctuary in California, zoo officials decided to move them to the Oklahoma Zoo. The announcement spurred outrage from advocates who were concerned about both the elephants' destination and how they would get there: confined for long periods of time without getting to stretch their legs, while traveling through mountain passes in unpredictable weather.

Animal advocates from the Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants feared that trucking the elephants 2,000 miles across the country would put too much stress on the animals, who were both caught from the wild. A federal lawsuit filed by the Elephant Justice Project even alleged that the move was illegal, but the case was dismissed.

Flickr/Brett Hammond

"The real concern about transport is if it's being rushed, if it's not being executed properly, with a detailed plan to ensure safety," Elephant Justice Project attorney Claire Tonry told Washington's K5 News in late March.

Now, activists' concerns have been realized. The Seattle Times reports that severe weather conditions in Wyoming and Colorado forced the caravan to reroute, ending up at the San Diego Zoo. Zoo veterinarians reportedly found the elephants exhibiting signs of muscle stiffness and exhaustion after a long ride. Critics are already saying that the bungled move is all part of a greater mistake not to move the Asian elephants to a sanctuary.

"It seems rather odd they rushed out of Seattle with not the best forecast," Alyne Fortgang, co-founder of the Seattle-based Elephant Justice Project, told U-T San Diego after the elephants arrived 1,000 miles away from their destination. "They could have kept them here a few more days until the weather cleared."

The elephants are still supposed to be moved to Oklahoma City, but a date has not yet been set for the move.