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Toronto Zoo elephants doomed by politics

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Toronto's three remaining elephants are set to be moved this month, leaving the zoo elephant-less for the first time in decades. Bob Barker offered to foot the bill to fly the three aging pachyderms to a sanctuary in California, PAWS. Somehow, plans have gone awry and details have surfaced making many question the move.

The three aging elephants have lived almost their entire lives at the Toronto zoo, with one being born at the zoo. Updates to the elephant area are sorely needed so a decision was made to remove the three remaining elephants to a suitable facility, instead of incurring the cost of upgrading the elephant area.

Animal rights activists pushed for the girls to go to PAWS, a California sanctuary at a distance of 4-5 days by road trip, while confined in trailers. Animal welfare laws, USDA, do not allow this long in transit for a reason – animal welfare. There are few places along the route to California to unload the elephants if health issues arise due to their age and the distance traveled.

Councillor De Baermaeker is seen on video admitting 4-5 days trip is the reason for flight being needed to transfer the elephants to PAWS. After gaining public support with this method, he claims concern over the flight to change plans to ground transport and claiming it is only two days in transit. The truth is, it is longer than two days with little access to help along the way of one if the aging "ellies," as they are affectionately called by those who know them, were to have any health issues due to the long trip.

Where did Bob Barker go in all this debate? Good question, as his funds were for air transport of the three elephants.

Meanwhile, much information about PAWS has been brought to light in a blog post titled “The Toronto Zoo Elephant Saga – The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth." Apparently, tuberculosis is a problem at PAWS, with TB-positive elephants being unchecked and not quarantined from the rest of the elephants kept at the facility. According to records and tracing back individual elephants, their origins (TB is very contagious amongst elephants) and proper handling procedures were not adhered to nor quarantine precautions taken at the facility. Death is a result of tuberculosis. Supporting documentation and timelines are outlined in great detail throughout the Zoosmatter blog.

Apparently, there are two options being ignored for the sake of a political agenda and an animal rights agenda, one that believes animals should never be in captivity. Leading aging animals to likely death due to disease, if they survive the long trip, is not in the interest of their welfare. The first option is Toronto taking responsibility and rebuilding an elephant area suitable for the girls that have lived almost their entire lives at the Toronto Zoo. It would be costly, yet not create undue stress on the animals.

Next, there is a more than adequate facility in Florida, not TB-positive, willing to take the “ellies.” It is a much closer distance along a better route if the need should arise for health reasons. You cannot simply unload an elephant alongside the highway and call the nearest dog or cat veterinarian if one of the elephants has a problem during the journey. The problem with this facility? It does not suit the agenda of animal rights activists because it is a breeding facility. Never mind the fact that elephant numbers are dwindling in the wild – an agenda of none in captivity is more important to some than the welfare of these three living elephants and the continuation of the species.

Those in favor of moving the old girls to PAWS, and in opposition to other solutions, claim the zookeepers are only being emotional about the loss of the elephants. One would have to wonder about their career choice and ability to perform their job if they did not care – especially in light of evidence proving the move to California to not be as originally claimed and very detrimental to the three elephants. A short flight to a non-TB-positive facility was claimed, when instead, it is to be a 4-5 days road trip to a TB-positive facility. No elephant keeper, or even the general public, should be unconcerned or quiet about the fate of these three elephants.

The public is usually not kept up-to-date about changes when it doesn’t look favorable on those with agendas other than the welfare of the animals involved. It’s time for the public to be made aware of the plight of these old girls that have given much joy to the city of Toronto and its visitors. The details outlined in the Zoosmatter blog are astounding, to learn this is where and how the fate of these “ellie” girls is to end. They deserve better than that, and the public deserves to know the truth.

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