Group Files Complaint Against OKC Zoo After Chai's Death

Saturday, April 9th 2016, 5:33 pm
By: Grant Hermes

A new complaint by a Seattle-based animal rights groups alleges the Oklahoma City Zoo veterinary director was negligent, deceptive and provided substandard care prior to the death of Chai, the Sumatran elephant, in January.

The Friends of the Woodland Park Zoo Elephants filed the complaint on Wednesday. In it, the group named Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino, the Oklahoma City Zoo’s veterinary director.

According to the group’s co-founder, Alyne Fortgang said the group had its own veterinarians pour over documents obtained after the death of Chai and decided to file the formal complaint.

The complaint accuses D’Agostino of negligence, was negligent with veterinary medicine, provided substandard care and used deceptive statement likely to deceive the public while caring for Chai.

“We believe that the Oklahoma City Zoo needs to up their game in the care of these animals,” Fortgang said. “[Elephants] are too intelligent, they are far ranging. And a lifetime in a small baron impoverished zoo yard and prison like cells in the barn is wrong.”

The Sumatran elephant died at the age of 37. The average life span of a Sumatran elephant is 47.

According to the official necropsy, commonly called an animal autopsy, Chai was killed by an undetectable and incurable dental problem that caused difficulty eating.

Fortgang said the elephant also showed sores and deep tissue damage along with a weight loss of 1,000 pounds.

Chai was one of two elephants moved to the Oklahoma City Zoo from the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.

Chai and Bamboo's arrival back May 2015 was marked by protests and a legal fight from animal rights groups who alleged the elephants would not adjust to the Oklahoma climate and traveling from Seattle to Oklahoma City would harm the animals.

This time, the group wants permanent changes to the elephant exhibit.

“We believe the elephant exhibit should be closed and the surviving elephants, should be moved to the elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. Frankly anything less diminishes our humanity,” Fortgang said.

Zoo officials are standing behind their staff and their lead veterinarian.

In a statement on Friday, Oklahoma City Zoo CEO Dwight Lawson said “these groups have long been manipulating facts and science to meet there goal to forever close the very places that are working to help save these magnificent animals … we will continue to be forthcoming and transparent about our elephant program.”