Point Defiance supports initiative to protect elephants, other endangered animals

Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is trying to protect elephants and other animals in the wild from poachers — first, through a proposal that died in the state Legislature this year, and now through a state initiative campaign.

Officials at the Tacoma zoo testified in favor of a bill that would have prohibited the sale of elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn in Washington State. Senate Bill 5241 received a public hearing in January but died without advancing out of a Senate committee.

Now they’re throwing their support behind state Initiative 1401, led by philanthropist and Seahawks owner Paul Allen. If it makes the November ballot and passes, it would help protect 10 kinds of animals threatened with extinction, including elephants, by prohibiting the sale and trade of certain products in Washington.

Gary Geddes, director of zoological and environmental education for Metro Parks Tacoma, which runs the zoo, pointed to “the senseless slaughter of elephants, tigers, sharks, and other animals that are being exploited through illegal trade.

“Our zoo and community care deeply about protecting these endangered animals and doing everything we can to save them from extinction,” Geddes said in a statement.

If no steps are taken, African forest elephants will be extinct by the middle of this century, said John Garner, conservation and education manager for Metro Parks.

He said there is an active market for ivory trading in Washington.

“It’s a real issue, it’s an international issue, and the Washington marketplace is tied in some ways to what’s occurring in African states,” Garner said.

He said the Senate bill was opposed by special interest groups — including groups such as the National Rifle Association and the Seattle Symphony — who felt it could encroach on their right to use ivory, perhaps in the handles of guns, knives or musical instruments.

Garner said the bill would have excluded anything with less than five percent by volume from restrictions in sale or trade.

“Our hope in going forward is that we can have conversations with groups and help them better understand our intent,” Garner said.