A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

Helping Elephants to Pack Trunks

Bob Barker offers to move them from zoo to sanctuary

“Would you mind if I sit down for the interview?” asked Bob Barker, after hosting a press conference in Canada about a plan to move the three elephants at the Toronto Zoo to a California sanctuary. The 87-year-old former host of The Price is Right had been on his feet for four hours since 7:30 in the morning.

“I’d prefer it if you’d stand,” the TV interviewer replied. So he stood. Anything for the elephants.

The zoo has been planning to build a new $40-million enclosure for elephants Toka, Thika and Iringa. But ZooCheck Canada says it would cost just $3 million to build a world-class interactive exhibit that would give young people a far richer experience of the life of an elephant than simply staring at live animals in an enclosure.

Reporters were impressed with Barker’s mastery of the issues. “He really knows his stuff,” one of them commented. “He’s not just a Hollywood celebrity with a cause. He’s smart.”

At the press conference, Barker introduced a team of experts who spoke about the intelligence and sensitivity of elephants and why it would be appropriate to move them from Toronto, with its bitterly cold winters, to a sanctuary where they’ll have a much better life.

Veterinarian Mel Richardson spoke about his work with elephants over 40 years. He talked about treating an elephant who needed care for both her front feet.

“I needed her to put one foot up on a stool so I could work on it,” he said. “But that meant her weight was on the other foot. I could see it was really hurting her.”

Richardson asked her to be patient for just a few more minutes. He said she understood and cooperated even though she was clearly in pain. And then he saw her put her trunk in her mouth. “She was crying,” he told a visibly moved audience.

Zoe’s science editor and neuroscientist Dr. Lori Marino spoke about the large, complex brains of elephants. “They have a sense of self that’s similar to that of humans,” she said. “They understand helping and cooperation, and they show empathy, compassion and grief.”

Pressed during the question period on how much money he might offer the zoo to move the elephants, Barker didn’t name a figure, but made it clear he’s prepared to help substantially if necessary.

“Everyone wanted to have their photo taken with him.”

Wherever he went, the former game show host was mobbed by people wanting to have their photo taken with him.

“I didn’t see him turn down a single request,” Marino said. “It was amazing to watch him in action. He was totally gracious throughout.”

After the press conference, at a meeting with members of the zoo board, it was clear that most of them were leaning toward allowing the elephants to be retired to the sanctuary of the Performing Animals Welfare Society, which currently has nine elephants, even though the zoo management is still nervous about how this might affect its bottom line.

To allay fears that people might stop coming to the zoo, several experts pointed out that zoos that have retired their elephants have suffered no decline in attendance.