In a "nutshell", Toronto Zoo decided to close the elephant exhibit. Then Toronto City Council (not Toronto Zoo) decided to send the elephants to PAWS in California. After checking it out, Toronto Zoo found that PAWS has tuberculosis ("TB") issues and the Toronto Zoo elephants may get TB if they go there. The Toronto Zoo elephants do not have TB. Treating TB involves quarantine and about 100 pills per day taken rectally -- yes, that end. So why risk sending them there? There are other places to send the Toronto Zoo elephants. One place is The National Elephant Center (TNEC) in Florida which opens Spring 2013 and is closer. Contact your Toronto City Councillor and ask that City Council listen to the Toronto Zoo's trained professionals and let Toronto Zoo make the animal care decisions.
SaveTheElephants.ca is citizens advocating to: (a) keep the three elephants at the Toronto Zoo, and (b) in the alternative, have them moved to an AZA-accredited facility such as The National Elephant Center (TNEC) in Florida.
The Toronto Zoo has three female African elephants. The three elephants are approximately aged 32 years, 42 years and 43 years and are being well taken care of by the trained professionals at the Toronto Zoo. Average elephant lifespan is 40-60 years.
In May 2011, the Toronto Zoo announced that it would close the elephant exhibit. A study showed that it would have taken $16.5 million to renovate and triple the size of the elephant area. And since elephants are social, three is the recommended minimum herd size (although some zoos have less than three). If one of the senior elephants were to pass away, there would probably be a request put forth to move out the other two elephants or to acquire one or more elephants (possible but probably not likely without the renovation).
The Toronto Zoo and the Toronto Zoo's Board of Management started the lengthy process of exploring the various options of where to send the three elephants. A decision was anticipated around the end of 2011.
In October 2011 (about two months away from a decision), Toronto City Council took less than 1 hour to decide to pass an urgent motion without notice to send the three Toronto Zoo elephants to a place in California called "Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)"; however, PAWS is not accredited by the nationally recognized Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). When council passed the motion, it took the decision out of the hands of the trained professionals at the Toronto Zoo. Subsequently, the AZA revoked Toronto Zoo's long-standing AZA accreditation because of governance issues.
Even as of October 2012, the lengthy due diligence process is still being carried out to ensure that the elephants are safely and humanely transported. Due diligence is not an administrative process of simply filing out paperwork. It includes, but is not limited to, examining the procedures and protocols and animal health records of PAWS. If questions remain from the due diligence process, the agreement to transfer the elephants to PAWS can and should be terminated. See:
Transportation Plan: PAWS is responsible for transporting the elephants. There currently is no transportation plan in place. PAWS originally wanted to fly the elephants in a partially pressurized cargo bay. PAWS finally agreed that was not safe for the elephants or for the zoo's accompanying personnel.
Crates and Training: Toka's steel transport crate is too small. The door cannot close behind her. And there have been setbacks training Iringa to use a crate. Crate training requires patience and trust. During transport, the elephants will be chained inside their crates by three legs for the entire trip.
Medical and Health Records: There is tuberculosis (TB) at PAWS. Toronto Zoo's senior veterinarian Dr. Crawshaw (30+ years experience) has concerns about the bio-security at PAWS. Imagine if you were sending a loved one to a retirement home where there are active cases of an infectious disease; wouldn't you be concerned?
Permits: There were delays in PAWS supplying the USA import permits which expired 1-Oct-2012. An extension on the import permits will likely be required while the Canadian export permits are being prepared by Environment Canada.
Toronto Zoo Board member, Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby, said deciding to send the elephants to PAWS “was the wrong decision” and “now, I just have to be certain we’re not sending them into something they’re going to get sick in and will shorten their life-span” since “because they’re not an accredited institution, they don’t really have any accountability.” (source: Toronto Sun, 26-Apr-2012)
As of October 2012, PAWS is asking for a deadline to be set and ensure there are no further obstructions and delays. Keep in mind that the delays can be primarily attributed to factors under the responsibility of PAWS. Where's the transportation plan from PAWS? Where are the permits? Where's the bigger crate for Toka? Where are PAWS's answers to the health concerns? And if a deadline is set and the elephants are not ready on that date, would you shove the elephants into the crates kicking and screaming? Of course not. Is it going to be claimed that "the Toronto Zoo is delaying yet again"? A safe and humane transfer can only be done when the elephants are ready.
On 26-Oct-2012, a Toronto Zoo press release stated that the Toronto Zoo has received a letter from PAWS's American attorneys threatening legal action against the Toronto Zoo and certain individuals arising from a Status Report update in September.
On 5-Nov-2012, the City of Toronto's Executive Committee passed a motion ordering the three elephants be moved “as soon as possible” to a facility zoo staff “determine is the best location.” This motion is significant and takes things in a positive direction. See: Summary of committee meeting.
On 27-Nov-2012, Toronto City Council discussed the elephants again. Despite the professional advice of the Toronto Zoo professionals, Toronto City Council decided 32-8 to send the three Toronto Zoo elephants to the PAWS facility. See: Summary of Council meeting.
After you consider all the facts, you have to conclude that the professionals at the Toronto Zoo really are looking out for the well-being of these elephants. It's time that this entire elephant transfer be reconsidered. It's about the health and safety of the elephants. Always has been. Always will be.
The National Elephant Center (TNEC) in Florida and other AZA-accredited facilities should be considered. See Toronto Star: "Zoo's elephants: Could another retirement option be Florida?"
For additional information, see:
- The Saga of Toka, Thika, and Iringa
- Getting to Know Toka, Thika and Iringa
- Questions that need to be answered
- The Florida Option
- How you can help
- How to contact Mayor Ford and your Toronto City Councillor
- Sign the petition
For latest updates and more information, see the home page.