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article imageOp-Ed: Bob Barker's $880K donation still not enough to secure elephants

By Elizabeth Batt     Apr 28, 2012 in Environment
Toronto - Despite an $880K pledge from Bob Barker offering to pay for the transport of three elephants from Toronto Zoo to PAWS (Sacramento), bitter legal wrangling is stalling the transfer.
If animals had half as much ego as the human species, we would all be in trouble. But in typical narcissistic fashion, a battle is underway over the transfer of three elephants from the Toronto Zoo to the Performing Animals Welfare Society (PAWS) near Sacramento, which is scheduled for Monday. And the situation is getting nastier by the minute.
But whose fault is it? Well of course that depends upon who you talk to of course. Bob Barker told the Toronto Star, that's he sick of the shenanigans and he feels compelled to withhold the money, until he receives an "ironclad" guarantee from the zoo, that elephants Iringa, 42, Toka, 42 and Thika, 31, will be released:
"I think these people are capable of anything" said Barker, "and I’m just not willing to lose a million dollars because of what’s going on up there. I fear they’d do anything to sabotage the transfer."
The Toronto Zoo meanwhile has engaged in a nasty back-and-forth diatribe which is now taking place through their lawyers. They have accused PAWS, generally known as a first class facility for animals, of hiding a case of TB in one of their elephants called Sabu from the Toronto City Council. The same council that voted 31-4 last October in favour of the motion to sending the three elephants to the sanctuary in California.
But the zoo has embarked on a series of false accusations said the Star, including muck spreading lies that "PAWS elephants have TB and caustic Facebook posts, including by zookeepers, hurling insults at PAWS director Ed Stewart. One even called Stewart “an evil, lying man.”
One such attack was tendered by Peter Dickinson. Dickinson questions whether council members were kept in the dark over the TB question and asks how open the sanctuary has been with its medical records?
Dan Koehl, in his blog, even went as far as to insinuate that PAWS covered up elephant deaths at their facilities by claiming elephants were euthanized due to arthritis, but neglected to mention Elephant TB (Mycobacterium tuberculosis) in the necropsy report. Of course, it's important to note here, that Dickinson is hardly impartial, having enjoyed a "long and happy career working in zoos." And neither is Koehl, a former elephant trainer at Elephant Experience in Zimbabwe.
But neither one of them in their slamming of PAWS, mentioned Toronto Zoo's own record with the elephant exhibit that first opened in 1983, or the fact that the zoo has lost seven African bush elephants out of 11 elephants total.
In July 2006 for example, the elephant Patsy (39), is euthanized due to long-term degenerative arthritis, followed by Tequila (38) in 2008, who was also euthanized with no cause of death given due to an "inconclusive" necropsy.
Tessa (40) was killed the following year later by an injury caused from an exhibit mate, said, an online elephant database, and in Nov. 2009, Tara:
"The matriarch of the Toronto Zoo elephant herd died unexpectedly at 41 years of age. Following the necropsy, authorities were still unable to determine the cause of death. She had been found laying on her side during morning inspection and was unable to rise with or without assistance. She weighed roughly 8500 pounds. Tara was the fourth elephant to die at the zoo since 2006."
Earlier known deaths, included TW, an elephant born at the zoo on Sep. 13, 1984. He lived just two days before succumbing to stomach/bowel problems. Tantor was a 20-year-old male bull elephant who "died in 1989 from heart failure, due to anesthesia, shortly after surgery for tusk extraction due to infection." And Toronto, was just 10-years-old when he died "in 1994 from toxemia, secondary to Salmonella gastroenteritis."
Eleven elephants, seven deaths, 4 births and 1 relocation.
The Toronto Zoo now has just three elephants left at its facility, Iringa, Toka and Thika. And although they were supposed to ship out for the sanctuary on Monday, it's unlikely the move will happen.
PAWS, the receiving facility, vehemently decries what it calls "fear-mongering by some people who oppose the transfer of any elephants to sanctuaries, elephants," it said, adding the elephants are not at risk of contracting disease at PAWS. "In fact," said the welfare society, "No elephant has ever contracted a contagious disease while living at PAWS," because they have the strictest quarantine protocols in North America:
"Iringa, Toka and Thika are African elephants that will be housed with PAWS African elephants. None of the African elephants at PAWS have ever tested positive for TB or even reactive to the STAT-Pak, blood test, which indicates if they have ever been exposed to TB. Nor do these elephant have any other contagious diseases. Therefore, Iringa, Toka and Thika are not at risk from contracting disease."
PAWS is home to 5 Asian and 3 African elephants. The elephant habitat at ARK 2000 provides the elephants with hundreds of acres of varied natural terrain to roam, lakes to bathe in, and state-of-the-art elephant barns equipped with heated stalls and therapeutic jacuzzis.
In 2009, the Toronto Zoo's own Board of Management indicated a concern that the condition of the elephant exhibit might cause the Zoo to lose its Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) accreditation. Following the death of Tara's in the same year, Zoocheck Canada and U.S.-based In Defence of Animals called for the Zoo to close the exhibit and send the remaining three elephants to a sanctuary.
But three years on, the elephants remain where they are, and time could be running out for them.
Global believes the elephants would be far better at the sanctuary, and calls the retaliation startling:
"From the perspective of elephant welfare, this retaliatory response is startling. Sanctuary is clearly in the best interest of the three African elephants, Thika, Iringa and Toka. Unlike the zoo quarters in frigid, urban Toronto, the western U.S. sanctuary offers a more temperate climate for elephant residents who graze in the desultory peace of California’s gentle gold and green foothills."
Meanwhile, said the Star, Councillor Michelle Berardinetti described herself as "repulsed" by events and called the current behavior occurring "abhorrent." Berardinetti, who spearheaded last October’s council vote, concluded that the only ones who will suffer, is the elephants.
After this article was published, I received this response from Lisa Selby of Scarborough, ON, and felt it fair to include it:
Dear Elizabeth, regarding the Toronto Zoo Elephants. These are not allegations there is actual proof that the sanctuary is and was treating tuberculosis infected elephants as early as last June. The emails that were posted at zoo news digest outline this. The truth is the sanctuary did lie about the TB. The reason was simple. The city laid out criteria that would determine that future home of the ellies, at the top of the list was that no facility with Tuberculosis would be considered.
They ruled out the Tennessee Sanctuary based on that criteria. PAWS knew full well if they offered up the truth about the TB issue they were having they too would be ruled out. there is overwhelming evidence to support these claims plus concrete proof in the form of those emails between PAWS vet and the California State Health Department. No one is trying to slag PAWS but they did lie and therefore we have the situation we have now.
As for the keepers creating rumours about this? It was not keepers or staff it was citizens and people from around the world who researched it and brought it to the attention of the zoo, city council and the media as it should have been months ago.
Unfortunately for PAWS they took a risk hiding the TB and it didnt pay off. Sabu was a 28 yr old bull ellie who died they say of severe arthritis but he was diagnosed with TB in 2001 AND a visiting sanctuary owner from Thailand clearly outlines in his blog last summer the use of facemaks and gloves with all the asian ellies for fear that Sabu's failing health might be related to his former disagnoses.
In fact what he didnt know is that all the asians had been exposed and were now being treated for TB. the source elephant rebecca died last year, PAWS disease prevention protocols failed. they did not know she was positive for TB until after she died in the meantime she had infected other elephants. I think its only fair to tell the whole story as the zoo is doing the right thing here, protecting these girls from a potentially dangerous disease.
Would you send your pet to a kennel that may or may not have parvo? Would you send your child to a daycare that may or may not have west nile disease just to save a few bucks? No of course you wouldnt and you wouldnt allow anyone to force you to do so, in particular if they lied to you about it in the first place. The zoo staff have not been the bad guys in this and it was citizens like myself who are were and are still speaking out on FB on behalf of these elephants. the decision to send them to paws was based on a lie and decided under false pretenses.
They will go to a new home and it will likely be the National Elephant Centre, aside from the breeding which goes against animal rights ideologies it is equally expansive and wonderful as PAWS and their supporters claim the cali sanctuary is. So is it about them going to a safe warm new home or about defending the animal welfare/rights ideology?
If its about the elephants then the national elephant centre is just fine. Our girls will not be bred, they will not be managed with unprotected contact and bullhooks are not used on elephants managed with PC. In fact the AZA announced last summer that the use of bullhooks and UPC will be phased out of all AZA facilities as of 2014 so that argument from activists was moot all along. No one is saying PAWS isnt a nice place, its is, for circus elephants and those affected by TB of which there are many in the circus industry who need rescue more than our girls do.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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