Not too long ago, the Toronto Zoo Board of Management voted to end the Toronto Zoo’s elephant program, at least temporarily because they left the door open to revisit elephants in the future. While the decision to end the program and relocate the Zoo’s three surviving African elephants was the right one, it was tainted by the refusal of the Board to even investigate alternative options, such as sanctuaries.
While claiming to have the best interests of the elephants in mind, the Board decided to send the elephants to another zoo accredited by the US-based Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). They dismissed suggestions that the elephants should be sent to one of the two US sanctuaries that house elephants and even voted against investigating that option.
It seems absurd, if the interests of the elephants really are a priority, to dismiss without review or investigation what might be the best and most humane option for the Zoo’s elephants, but that’s exactly what happened.
One Board member said the sanctuaries weren’t accredited by the AZA, so they were not accountable, and there were inferences about lower standards of care. The reality of course is quite different. The low standard is the zoo standard.
Both sanctuaries provide spacious natural accommodation ranging in size from 80 acres to hundreds of acres. The AZA minimum space standard for one adult elephant is 167 m² (1800 ft²). That’s the equivalent of 9 standard size parking lot spaces.
When the zoo standards are compared to actual conditions at the sanctuaries, it’s clear that the sanctuaries exceed the zoo standards in almost every conceivable way.
It’s hard to understand why people cling so desperately to the old ways of doing things, why they ignore history and science and why they ignore the best interests of the animals, but they do.
The Toronto Zoo Board of Management made the right decision to relocate the elephants, but they made the wrong decision to ignore the sanctuary option.