: 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.

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Thursday, 6 December 2012

Elephants at Toronto City Council, 27-Nov-2012

On 27-Nov-2012, Toronto City Council discussed the Toronto Zoo elephants again -- item EX24.30 Elephant Transfer Status Update.

The discussion can be viewed on Rogers TV: Toronto City Council, 27-Nov-2012. The discussion of EX24.30 starts at time marker 487:10, about 73% into the video, about where the letter "l" is in the title "Council".

The Toronto Zoo's CEO John Tracogna and senior veterinarian Dr. Graham Crawshaw were present and answered questions from the Councillors. The Zoo presented its concerns and stated that it had concluded that the PAWS facility was not suitable. The documents that had been submitted as part of EX24.30 were:

Elephant Transfer Due Diligence Review (20-Nov-2012), with 3 attachments:

  1. Due Diligence Review, with 6 sub-attachments:
    1. PAWS Aerial Site
    2. USDA Reports for “Rebecca” and “Sabu” and PAWS' other elephants
    3. Letter from Dr. Michele Miller, DVM, PhD, Veterinary Advisory to the AZA Elephant Advisory Group
    4. Letter from Dr. Ramiro Isaza, DVM, MS, MPH, DACZM, Associate Professor of Zoological Medicine, University of Florida
    5. Letter from Dr. Ian Duncan, Professor Emeritus, Emeritus Chair in Animal Welfare, University of Guelph
    6. Letter from Dr. Dale Smith, DVM, DVSc, Professor, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph
  2. Letter from Mr. John Lehnhardt, Executive Director, The National Elephant Center
  3. Letter from Mayor Susan Adams, Fellsmere, Florida

Several Councillors were practically verbally attacking the Toronto Zoo staff. While several Councillors stood and spoke in defence of the Toronto Zoo staff and urged Councillors to "do the right thing", including Councillors Ainslie, Grimes, Holyday, Lindsay Luby and Shiner.

In the end, City Council went against the professional advice of the Toronto Zoo professionals and decided by 32-8 to send the Toronto Zoo elephants to PAWS by 31-Dec-2012 or as soon as possible. City Council adopted the following motions:

1. City Council reaffirm its previous decision (MM13.9; October 24-25, 2011) to transfer the Toronto Zoo elephants (Toka, Thika and Iringa) to the Performing Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary (in San Andreas, California) on or before December 31, 2012 or as soon as possible and all funding for the move will be paid by PAWS.

2. City Council, having reviewed the due diligence process undertaken by the Toronto Zoo, accept the independent infectious disease report provided by Dr. Susan Cork that PAWS is a safe facility and meets the requirements of the due diligence process.

3. City Council advise the Board of Management of the Toronto Zoo that it considers the due diligence process to be complete and that the three elephants be made available for transport under the coordination of Active Environments including the responsibility for the transportation plan and to be paid for by PAWS.

Even though the Toronto Zoo professionals had concluded in their report that the PAWS facility has a tuberculosis (TB) and bio-security issue, the City Council accepted the disease report provided by Dr. Susan Cork of the University of Calgary. See Dr. Cork's report: part 1, part 2.

City Council saying that due diligence is complete and that everything is fine does not make it fine. There is still an elephant at PAWS with active and infectious tuberculosis, there are still African elephants at PAWS that shared a barn with that elephant, there is still no plan for safe and humane transport to PAWS, and the crate for Toka still does not fit her. Does this sound fine to you? Moving the Toronto Zoo elephants to PAWS is not in the best interest of the elephants. The Toronto Zoo professionals have said to not do it.

In addition to the elephant issue, Councillor De Baeremaeker who is on the Board of Management of the Toronto Zoo moved a motion related to AZA and CAZA accreditation. City Council adopted the following motion:

4. City Council request the Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Zoo to apply for admission to the Canadian Association of Zoos (CAZA) and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) once both of these organizations demonstrate that their standards of care meet or exceed the standards of care adopted by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) and both CAZA and AZA enforce their own guidelines, to the satisfaction of the Toronto Zoo Board.

AZA had already revoked Toronto Zoo's AZA accreditation. And CAZA had already suspended Toronto Zoo's CAZA accreditation, meaning that it was not yet revoked but would be revoked if governance issues were not resolved. Now that City Council voted to move the elephants against the recommendations of the Zoo, there is little doubt that CAZA will revoke its accreditation too. With the above motion and the fact that Councillors Cho and De Baeremaeker have been re-appointed to the Toronto Zoo Board, it may be a very long time, if ever, when the Toronto Zoo regains AZA and CAZA accreditation. Lack of both accreditations will hamper the Zoo's participation in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) conservation efforts. Even if City Council passed this motion as a political statement against AZA and CAZA, City Council may not have fully appreciated the long term consequences of the motion as it would affect the survival of species.

City Council also adopted the following motion regarding the City of Edmonton's Asian elephant Lucy:

5. City Council encourage the City of Edmonton to take immediate action to move its lone, 37-year old Asian elephant Lucy to a warmer climate (as the City of Toronto has decided to do for Iringa, Toka and Thika) and that the City of Edmonton invite independent veterinarians to assist in assessing Lucy's condition and treat her, if necessary, so that she can be sent to one of the two elephant sanctuaries in the United States as soon as possible.

The following day, Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel issued a reply. The following excerpt is from Edmonton mayor blasts Toronto over elephant advice:

"It's none of their business what we do in the city of Edmonton," he said. "I don't butt into Toronto's business. I don't appreciate it at all." Mandel said it's "disrespectful" for another city to pass a resolution about what Edmonton should or shouldn't do.

Zoocheck Canada, PAWS's representative in Canada, had unsuccessfully tried earlier to get Lucy moved out of the Edmonton Valley Zoo. The above motion moved by Councillor De Baeremaeker is clearly in support of Zoocheck Canada's efforts. Zoocheck Canada's Campaigns Director was in the audience at the City Council meeting and could be seeing advising Councillors Berardinetti, Cho, De Baeremaeker at various times during the discussions.

Just before the motions were voted on, Councillor Peruzza stood and gave a blatantly anti-zoo speech. He questioned the existence of all zoos. His speech clearly demonstrated that he is either unaware or unappreciative of the Toronto Zoo's Conservation Initiatives and its Research & Veterinary Programs. The Toronto Zoo is far more than a "tourist attraction". See: "Inside Toronto's hidden zoo".

Not only was November 27th a sad day for the future of Toka, Thika and Iringa, it was a sad day for the Toronto Zoo and for zoos everywhere.

From what happened at City Council, one thing is absolutely clear. The Toronto Zoo must move to an independent governance model separate from Toronto City Council. The Toronto Zoo must be operated by a Zoological Society that listens to and appreciates the advice of the Toronto Zoo professionals. See: The Future of Toronto Zoo Governance.

See also: Minutes of Toronto City Council meeting, 27-Nov-2012.

UPDATE: Councillor Vows to Fight Transfer of Toronto Zoo Elephants.