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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Cranky elephant packing her trunk

Bamboo is shown in a 2002 photo at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. The 4-ton bachelorette is moving to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium because she doesn't get along with Woodland's other elephants, particularly 4-year-old Hansa. 
 (Photo courtesy of Woodland Park Zoo / The Spokesman-Review)
Peggy Andersen Associated Press

SEATTLE – Bamboo, a 38-year-old elephant with no close friends at Woodland Park Zoo and a limited tolerance for the high jinks of baby Hansa, is packing her trunk and heading for the zoo in Tacoma, which welcomes prickly pachyderms.

The 4-ton Bamboo, an Asian elephant, was born in the wild in Thailand. She’s lived in Seattle since she was a year old.

“She’d never been exposed to a calf,” and has not done well with 4-year-old Hansa, daughter of 26-year-old Asian elephant Chai, Woodland Park spokeswoman Gigi Allianic said Friday.

Brian Upchurch, the zoo’s curator of mammals, put it this way in a news release: “Bamboo occasionally has displayed aggressive behavior toward Hansa and does not appear to have the skills necessary to safely play a constructive role within a herd with young calves.”

Plus Bamboo never did hit it off with female African elephant Watoto, 36. Instead of support and companionship, “It has been a relationship of tolerance and avoidance,” Upchurch said.

At Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, “plays well with others” has never been an admission requirement.

The Tacoma zoo is a national leader in handling elephants considered too dangerous to be kept and trained using traditional methods. Handlers keep barriers between themselves and the elephants at all times.

The Tacoma zoo’s first “troubled” elephant, Cindy — who died in 2002 — had a history of grabbing and biting people.

Dominant Suki, now 39, moved in after throwing a handler against the wall and trying to stomp him.

Hanako, now 41, was sent from the Washington Park Zoo in Portland because she was unpredictable and moody.

At Point Defiance, Bamboo will have daily access to a one-acre yard with water features and a modern elephant barn with capacity for three elephants.

The goal is to improve the social scene for elephants at both zoos, which have three elephants each. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association recommends a minimum of three elephants to a herd for the pachyderms’ social well-being.

“Bamboo has shown the ability to interact well with other adult Asian females,” said John Houck, deputy director of the Tacoma zoo. “We feel confident in her ability to do well with the elephants at Point Defiance, and we believe her presence will enhance our herd’s social dynamics.”

The proximity of the two zoos will help ensure a smooth transition, Houck said.

“We will follow a methodical plan to introduce Bamboo to Suki and Hanako with the ultimate goal of successfully socializing all three elephants. We’ve done this before. We have expertise in working with difficult elephants and socializing them,” he said.

Woodland Park and Point Defiance both participate in the AZA’s Species Survival Plan for elephants, a cooperative breeding program in North American zoos to manage and expand the populations of endangered species.