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Zoo Association Tries to Punish Toronto for Humane Decision


The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is miffed about the Toronto Zoo and the Toronto City Council making the wise and humane decision to send their three elephants, Thika, Iringa and Toka, to a sanctuary in California. So the AZA has retaliated by pulling the accreditation of the Toronto Zoo.

What’s their rationale? Very simply, the sanctuary where the elephants are going isn’t a zoo, and the therefore the AZA doesn’t control it and refuses to recognize it. The Performing Animals Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary, near Sacramento, is among the world’s top elephant sanctuaries – and, indeed, a far better way for people to see elephants than going to a zoo.

But the AZA, for political reasons, doesn’t want people seeing zoo animals going anywhere that isn’t a zoo, anywhere that the AZA can’t control, and anywhere that might give the impression that there are better places for animals than zoos.

Councilor Michelle Berardinetti, who led the motion at the Toronto city council calling for the move to PAWS, said: “The reality is what we’re seeing here is the bully (the AZA) that’s trying to tell us what to do, and tell the taxpayers and residents of Toronto what to do, with our elephants. The other issue is why are they doing it right now? They just happen to be doing it when we’re getting ready to move the elephants.”

Elephants at the PAWS sanctuary

The AZA has admitted that its decision to punish the Toronto Zoo has nothing to do with the care of the animals, and that it is, rather, a “management” decision.

A staff report to the zoo board last year warned that, without proper certification, the Toronto Zoo would be unable to maintain its animal collection, since zoos regularly lend animals to each other under a program managed by the AZA. But zoo chief executive officer John Tracogna said it will be “business as usual” for most of the zoo’s activities.

“Toronto Zoo has an excellent reputation,” Berardinetti added. “It is an excellent facility and it does not have to rely on foreign accreditation.”

Canada’s CBC radio talked with city Councilor Glenn De Baeremaeker, who sits on the zoo council. De Baeremaeker poured scorn on the AZA’s decision, saying that moving the elephants was the right and humane thing to do. He added that, rather than trying to hurt the Toronto Zoo, the AZA should look to its own policies, which include supporting the cruel use of bullhooks to control elephants.

Listen to his comments in this audio clip: