After much public pressure, including from former game show host Bob Barker, the Toronto Zoo will find new homes for its three elephants.
Toka, Thika and Iringa, each a female pachyderm, will be sent to a warmer climate to retire after a zoo management board vote yesterday to close the elephant exhibit.
Members voted 5-2 in favour of the closure after animal rights activists argued Canadian winters were too harsh on the animals. According to the Toronto Star, a recent report further outlined it would cost $16.5 million for a larger, better equipped facility to be built at the zoo. Annual operating costs would then run around $930,000 a year.
"It's time to retire them," said Glenn De Baeremaeker, a Toronto city counsellor and member of the board. "Send them down to a sanctuary."
De Baeremaeker later said, “Our elephants are wonderful, they're beautiful, they're old... They get cold during January. They should be retired somewhere where it's sunny and warm.”
Two of the elephants are in their 40s, one is 30. Pachyderms typically live for 50 to 70 years.
The board hopes to send the animals to a facility accredited by the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). However, there is further pressure to send the elephants to a sanctuary instead.
CBC News reported Barker, former host of television’s The Price is Right, visited Toronto last month to convince zoo officials of the latter plan, suggesting facilities in California and Tennessee. He further offered to foot the bill.
The decision was a hot topic at Thursday’s meeting, with board officials questioning standards of care at facilities not approved by the AZA.
“There are too many unknowns involved as far as I’m concerned,” Eric Cole, supervisor of the zoo’s elephant enclosure told reporters. “The sanctuaries don’t have any standards that they publish that are equivalent to AZA standards.”
Several sanctuary institutions were represented at the meeting, including the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).
Their California facility offers about 56 hectares of space for elephants. Space for elephants at Toronto Zoo are less than a hectare in total.
It will take up to two years to move the elephants, at a cost of $30,000 to $50,000.