Concerned group holds vigil for elephant euthanized at Seattle zoo

Concerned group holds vigil for elephant euthanized at Seattle zoo
Signs held outside Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington. August 23, 2014.

SEATTLE - A group concerned over the death of a 45-year-old elephant gathered outside Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo Saturday afternoon to hold a vigil, and protest.

Watoto, an elephant that had been on display since 1971, was euthanized at Woodland Park Zoo after her health suddenly declined Friday morning.

Friends of Woodland Park Zoo Elephants held the vigil, and has been on a crusade for several years to bring attention to what they say is a poor environment for the elephants.

"Everything about the zoo environment is unnatural and unhealthy for elephants," Alyne Fortgang, member of Friends of Woodland Park Zoo, said Friday. "Captivity-induced ailments caused her to die young."

Bruce Bohmke, Woodland Park Zoo's Chief Operations Officer, disagrees saying old age was a factor in Watoto's death, and that critics don't know the science of zoo life.

"Elephants in the wild live from 60 to 70 years old, so Watoto dying at 45 years is very premature," Fortgang said. "We know elephants die prematurely in zoos."

Fortgang says believes the remaining two elephants should be moved to a sanctuary.

"Watoto has lived a long, healthful life at Woodland Park Zoo under the care of dedicated keepers and staff. We will all miss her greatly," Bruce Bohmke, Woodland Park Zoo's Chief Operations Officer, said in a release announcing the death.

A full necropsy and its findings are expected to be released in a few weeks.