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Toronto, Edmonton in Elephant Fight

Lucy the elephant at the Edmonton Zoo.

The mayor of Edmonton is unhappy. He doesn’t like the fact that the Toronto city council has voted to release three elephants from the Toronto Zoo and send them to a sanctuary in California. And the thing he really, really doesn’t like is that the Toronto city council is encouraging Edmonton’s zoo to do the same thing.

“I think that it is very disrespectful of other cities to pass resolutions about what Edmonton should and shouldn’t do,” Mayor Stephen Mandel said.

The Toronto council voted on Tuesday to send Toka, Thika and Iringa to the PAWS sanctuary outside of Sacramento. And if you’re thinking, “Wait! Isn’t that story a year old? Didn’t they do that last year”, you’re right. But they just had to do it again.

That’s because, a year later, Toka, Thika and Iringa are still stuck at the zoo, and the zoo management has spent a year and a half putting up endless roadblocks to do with permits, flight arrangements, irrelevant scare tactics about TB at PAWS, and other diversions like an alternate plan that would send them to a facility in Florida that works under the auspices of the zoo industry.

Toka, Thika and Iringa at the Toronto Zoo

This week, the Toronto city fathers and mothers voted once again, 32 to 8, to send the three elephants to California. Toka, Thika and Iringa will probably have to live through another frigid Canadian winter, but it’s green lights for next spring … unless the zoo can come up with another trip wire.

The long saga of these three elephants has also brought more attention to Lucy, the sole elephant at the River Valley Zoo in the even more frigid city of Edmonton. Animal protection groups have been urging for years that Lucy, who is 37 years old and not in the best of health, should be retired to a sanctuary in a warmer clime. And now the Toronto council has called on Edmonton to do this. Lucy, who is 37 years old and not in the best of health, should be retired to a sanctuary in a warmer clime.

But there’s nothing like an “Eastern liberal” city telling a “wild west” city how to mind its business to get the good-ole-boy mayor to dig in his heels and take it out on the elephant.

Having ignored Lucy’s physical and mental health for years, Mayor Mandel is suddenly all worried about what moving Lucy will do to her health.

“We have been told repeatedly, repeatedly, that this particular wonderful addition to our city would die if we shipped her out,” he said. “We are only concerned about Lucy’s health.”

Humane organizations say that it’s precisely because of her health that this “wonderful addition to our city” must be moved.

“We have sent [Mayor Mandel] so much information about Lucy and about her problems and why she should be moved and why it’s really a death sentence to keep her here,” said Tove Reece of the Voice for Animals Humane Society. “And it’s like he just doesn’t hear. I’m really disheartened that he would take that attitude.”

Toutoune at the Granby Zoo, Montreal.

The urgency of getting elephants out of zoos in these icy climates was only heightened when Toutoune, a 35-year-old elephant at the Granby Zoo in Montreal, died of pneumonia last Sunday. The urgency was only heightened when Toutoune, an elephant at the Granby Zoo in Montreal, died of pneumonia last Sunday.

“Climate [forces] many elephants to be kept indoors for long periods of time,” said Rob Laidlaw, Zoocheck’s executive director. “That can lead to not only psychological problems, but foot problems, obesity and other physical issues.”

The Granby Zoo is also digging in its heels, and rather than letting its one remaining elephant, Sarah, to go to a sanctuary, it plans to double down and buy more elephants.”

The Edmonton Zoo is not planning to bring in any more elephants. That’s good, but they need to let Lucy go, rather than just leave her to waste away and die alone.

Elephants are highly social animals who live in big extended families. Lucy has no one of her own kind to be with, and her sole companion is her caregiver, Maureen Anderson, who has looked after her for 19 years.

Elephants at the PAWS sanctuary

it’s too late for Toutoune, but it’s not too late for Sarah, Thika, Toka, Iringa and Lucy. These zoos, mayors and councils need to get their act together, let go of their agendas and their macho pride and grandstanding, and give the elephants a few years of quality life before it is, indeed, too late.