Don’t blame either the elephants or Bob Barker for the Toronto Zoo’s loss of American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) accreditation. Blame the AZA.
The AZA does not accredit sanctuaries, and surely, after years of dutifully entertaining zoo visitors the three Toronto elephants deserve the high level of care that AZA accredited facilities cannot provide. The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) is not merely “endorsed” by Barker (who has no vested interest in any of this; on the contrary it’s costing him money Toronto won’t spend) but by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), and City Councillors such as Michelle Berardinetti, who actually visited PAWS and saw for herself what the sanctuary can provide.
AZA has allowed zoos to keep accreditation even after sending “surplus” animals to auctions, where some wound up on game farms, to be shot by sportsmen. Your contention that the AZA finds it “unacceptable to send elephants to an unaccredited facility” is simply wrong. Other zoos have sent elephants and other animals to sanctuaries without losing accreditation. The AZA , whose accreditation recognizes only minimum standards well exceeded by the Toronto Zoo, is playing a mean-spirited political game in which elephants are pawns. It is not AZA’s job to do what is best for animals, but to promote traditional zoos even if they provide limited space in unsuitable climate.
Ironically the AZA action came just as the Calgary Zoo announced a welcome policy that elephants would not be kept there, in recognition that in time, these tropical and subtropical animals fare poorly in our climate, and from limited mobility.
The Toronto Zoo’s three elephants have reached the age where seriously painful arthritic foot problems occur, and death soon follows. These problems are well documented for elephants in zoos in temperate climates with cold winters. Toronto Zoo had ample time to come up with an AZA accredited alternative to PAWS, but failed; traditional zoos are not good for elephants, hence the need for sanctuaries.
How sickly twisted the situation is if you’re right: putting the welfare of animals first is “bad publicity” for zoos. The Toronto Zoo could and should embrace a more compassionate approach to animal husbandry. And we should be grateful to Barker for doing what the city should have done, and picking up the tab. He cares, and so should we all. There are excellent zoos who spurn AZA accreditation altogether and so should the Toronto Zoo.
Barry Kent MacKay