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Preparing To Move The Elephants: How Is It Done?

Elaine Thompson
AP Images
Bamboo, a 48-year-old Asain Elephant who has lived most of her like at Woodland Park Zoo. The zoo is preparing her and the other Asain Elephant, Chai, for a move to Oklahoma City Zoo.

Moving to a new home is never easy. It takes time, it costs money and it usually involves a lot of people. All of these factors also apply to elephants.

Woodland Park Zoo is actively preparing its two Asian Elephants, Chai and Bamboo, to make the journey to Oklahoma City Zoo.  Nancy Hawkes, the zoo’s Curator, says it involves months of planning.


“Anything to do with elephants takes time.”


Two custom made crates were built for Chai and Bamboo. In February, one was put in their yard so they could get use to it. Keepers stood nearby with watermelons and honeydews to lure them in.


“But it turned out that Chai was so curious she walked in the first day. Since then we work in with them every day to make it part of their routine that they walk into the crate, hang out for a few minutes and then they walk back out,” says Hawkes.


If and when they make the 2,000 mile drive to Oklahoma City, the crates will be loaded onto a flatbed truck. Bamboo, who Hawkes says can be a little feisty and Chai, who’s more laid back, will have eight humans following in three cars to keep them company.


“Including two veterinarians and two of our elephant care staff, and our elephant curator,” says Hawkes, as she lists the number of people and their roles in the journey.    

Also on hand will be a contact sheet for other zoos along the route that can help if there is an emergency. The crates will have heaters and wireless cameras so handlers can see what’s going with the  animals at all hours. Water, hay and watermelons will be plentiful. Large belly straps will be in the crates that can hoist up the animals a bit to take some weight off their feet.The trip is expected to take 30 to 40 hours and will cost more than $100,000.   

There are active lawsuits trying to prevent the elephants’ move. In previous statements, zoo officials in Seattle have said moving Chai and Bamboo to another zoo with more elephants is in their best interest. Members of the Elephant Justice Project say the animals should go to a sanctuary that would offer more space for them to roam.  

Jennifer Wing is a former KNKX reporter and producer who worked on the show Sound Effect and Transmission podcast.