But today Toronto Council's decision to move the elephants to an unaccredited sanctuary in California has resulted in the Zoo losing its AZA accreditation for at least the next year. This could pose a serious problem to the many wonderful and important breeding programs at the Toronto Zoo; hopefully they will regain their AZA standing (which they've maintained since 1977) next spring and things will return to normal.
In the meantime, this never should have been allowed to happen. The Toronto Zoo is operated by the City of Toronto which is why Counc. Michelle Berardinetti thought they had carte blanche to make any decision they saw fit regarding the welfare of the animals residing there, which is an absolutely egregious abuse of power in my opinion. Counc. Paul Ainslie would appear to agree with me, stating "if we’re going to start directing our [zoo], which has a properly directed board with a mandate to manage the zoo, why have a board of directors at the zoo? Why not just let the city of Toronto look after it? It’s a very dangerous way to be looking after a city, let alone animals in a zoo." (From cbc.ca 10/26/11)
That aforementioned Zoo Board had already taken the preliminary steps, with no help from Toronto Council, toward transferring the three elephants "to one or more accredited AZA institutions...as soon as practical." Now, the Performing Animal Welfare Society may well run some top-notch sanctuaries, but they are not AZA accredited and this was a major stumbling block for the Toronto Zoo. In the first place, the Zoo's elephants are not "performing animals". They have spent their lives in zoos and are used to (and likely require) a certain level of care at their advanced ages. The keeper I spoke to at the Zoo in February said that a big concern they have about the move to a wide-open sanctuary is the potential for one of the huge creatures to fall or become injured and not be found until it was too late. Some people feel this is "natural selection"; however, if the argument is being made that the sanctuary is the best place for the elephants then I would submit that the "natural selection" argument really doesn't apply in this case.
Was a PAWS sanctuary the best place for these elephants to go? The keepers feel the answer is "no", as I mentioned, but the real disgrace is that council voted on this issue, as Counc. John Parker pointed out, without performing any kind of study whatsoever on the pros and cons of this sanctuary vs. an accredited zoo. According to the Globe and Mail in May of 2011, even Zoo Board chairman Joe Torzsok acknowledged that they did not rule out a sanctuary immediately but wanted to look at all the angles before reaching an informed decision. Clearly an AZA-accredited zoo was the first choice of the people who should have been charged with making that decision from a position of knowledge and expertise. Instead, the Toronto Zoo has lost its own accreditation because the elephants' fate was decided by a bunch of politicians who may or may not ever have visited the Zoo themselves in the first place.
And, of course, this man.
Which, despite his best intentions, just doesn't sit right with me.
*****UPDATE April 20th*****
The Toronto Star stole my title for their headline. That's kind of cool!