It’s a challenge when the information on a city decision is disseminated over the course of a warm spring, then the issue goes quiet, then suddenly bursts forth in the fall and council makes a bold move. That is exactly how the issue of Toka, Thika and Iringa, the Toronto Zoo’s three remaining elephants, unfolded. This coming months after yet another Toronto Zoo elephant, despite the best care possible, had passed away.
In the spring, animal activists took to the media to inform Torontonians what modern day veterinarians know. We know today elephants need constant movement, running in fact, and warmer climates, to avoid a life of painful foot fungal infections and arthritis. World-renowned animal activist and retired television host, Bob Barker came to Toronto to meet with Zoo Board members. A few attended. The following Sunday, all were invited by ZooCheck, an animal care watchdog organization of note, to a day-long seminar at Sutton Place Hotel where they could meet the director of the PAWS Sanctuary and learn about their state-of-the-art care program. Only Councillors Raymond Cho and Glenn De Baeremaeker joined me there.
The Zoo Board was determined to ignore Barker’s offer of funding the move to PAWS in favour of moving the animals to a fellow Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited zoo. The elephant care team at the Toronto Zoo, second to none in professionalism, set to work on the process of training and preparing the elephants for a move to a warmer zoo.
Enter rookie Councillor Michelle Berardinetti who, months later learned two very important pieces of the elephant puzzle. The first point being the only reason PAWS is not accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is it doesn’t need or want to be. It offers a superior environment for animals retired from zoos or captive life in the performing arts. Secondly, transferring the elephants to another zoo might alleviate their suffering of the Canadian winter, but not the arthritis coming from lack of room to run. Nor could we guarantee once we sent them, they wouldn’t be traded away.
Councillor Berardinetti brings a certain alliance to the council chamber, I bring yet another, and thus these three elephants are now on their way to live a Californian life with therapeutic baths and acres and acres of roaming space.
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