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Film-maker Ken Moore Discusses "Spaceless in Seattle"


by Bev Questad

Doesn't everybody love an elephant? This is a four-minute, concise, well-done short on how the elephants are doing at the Woodland Park Zoo (WPZ) in Seattle. Intelligently written, cleverly titled and efficiently presented, this short is a must-see.

Remember when you were young and visited the zoo? Didn't we all ask, at some point, are the animals happy here? Do they miss not being where they came from? Do they like being here all alone? Do they have enough room?

The citizens of Seattle are taking these questions to heart when it comes to the elephants at the WPZ. Ken Moore, a Seattle resident, has taken the unhappy story of these elephants and made an important production that has had almost 2,000 views in the last 7 days on YouTube.


In an interview with It's Just Movies, Ken Moore, director, writer and producer of this short, answered several questions about what motivated him to make this production.

It's Just Movies: How did you get involved in this campaign?

Ken Moore:
In April of 2009 my wife and I were at the Sunday market and we saw a 14-year-old girl and her mother passing out leaflets with information about the elephants' plight. I stopped to talk with them and was instantly compelled by the story and that this girl, Maia Sebek, had taken on this cause as her school project (she's home-schooled) with a commitment to continue campaigning and organizing protests & education until the elephants are released or she graduates from high school. I decided to see what I could do to help.

IJM: Have you seen the elephants for yourself?

Yes, I felt I needed to observe the conditions in person before I could argue their case with authority. I spent an hour or so getting video of them in their stall, watching the handlers interact with them and watching them in their <1 acre yard.

IJM: How did you come up with the idea for this short?

I work at Google as a user experience designer, and the people I work with are exceptionally bright so I figured they would help me develop some action plan. I met with a half dozen coworkers over lunch and shared every detail I could with them� but in the end none were persuaded to assist. This perplexed me � there's so much evidence, why wasn't it compelling? Over time I concluded that there are just too many details, it's too much information to grasp in a single discussion. I think this is a big reason so many activists on this issue have trouble getting traction with the public.

One day in early June 2010 I was struck by the desire to make a focused & distilled case for the elephants, and to post a narrated video on YouTube so people could finally "get it". I wrote up a quick script and sketched out a quick storyboard and showed it to my wife, who has a degree in broadcasting & media. "I like it", she said, and thus began my month-long video project.

IJM: How much would it cost to transfer all the elephants to Tennessee?

I don't know what elephant transfers cost, but I can't imagine they're cheap by any means. The Elephant Sanctuary has agreed to accept the 3 elephants free of charge, including the transportation cost. It's quite an offer, a win-win as far as I'm concerned.

IJM: What is the zoo's position on the elephants?

They continually deny that the elephants are anything but happy and healthy, getting all their needs met. It's a sad state really, there are many people at the zoo who desperately love these animals and commit their lives to making things as good as possible for them there� but in the end the elephants just don't have enough space to remain healthy, and the zoo's medical records show they all have foot and/or joint disease, the #1 cause of death for adult zoo elephants. If we can educate the community on the silent suffering these creatures endure, hopefully at some point the zoo will be forced to enter the real discussion rather than hide behind a wall of denial.

This issue of the elephants' well-being is increasingly becoming an item of public concern in the Pacific Northwest. Mary Sebek and Nancy Farnam contracted the law firm Smith & Lowney, PLLC, and in June registered a Complaint for Injunctive Relief at the Superior Court of the state of Washington. In addition to suing for "expenses, costs, and other disbursements associated with filing and maintenance of this action," the 15-page petition calls for the city of Seattle to cease its funding of the Zoo Society because of the Woodland Park's Zoo's "failure to care for all Zoo animals in accordance with federal, state, and local laws and regulations."

Ken Moore has reported that The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn., has agreed to pay for the transport and life-care of these three WPZ elephants. There, on 2,700 acres of beautiful forested land, elephants are allowed to graze and lead the best possible life. Since 1995, The Sanctuary, whose mission is to rescue old, sick or needy elephants, has taken on 25 elephants, with an eventual goal of 100.

The Sanctuary notes on its Web site that in "the wild, elephants are migratory, walking 30 to 50 miles each day, and form intricate family structures. They grieve for their dead in a more-than-instinctive way. They show humor and express compassion for one another with intense interactions. The reality of their lives in captivity is that many are in chains up to 18 hours a day. They are enclosed in steel pens � often alone � broken and controlled by fear and intimidation."

In response, the Sanctuary is not a public viewing facility. Its "residents are not required to perform or entertain for the public; instead, they are encouraged to live like elephants."

Hopefully, two of the responses to Ken Moore's production and the greater awareness of the Seattle area's citizens will be increased funding to The Sanctuary and an increased sensitivity to how responsibly zoos use taxpayer money.


The Sanctuary website:

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