Should elephants live in zoos? This question has been raised by animal welfare groups for quite a while now. Elephants in the wild can live anywhere from 60 to occasionally 80 years old, but usually don’t live past middle age at the majority of zoos in colder climates. There are a few main reasons for this. In the winter, elephants have to stay indoors. That means, for a couple of months, the elephants are standing on a hard floor.
At the Toronto Zoo, the elephant’s outdoor paddock has a hard dirt substrate, which isn’t much better for the elephant’s feet than their barn.
Hard surfaces and small enclosures put stress on the elephants, causing not only psychological distress for elephants, but physical ailments as well, such as foot infections and arthritis.
Most Canadian zoo enclosures, such as the ones in Toronto and Edmonton, are far too small to provide adequate exercise for the elephants. And although I have never been to Bowmanville Zoo, east of Toronto, I am guessing that their elephant area may be too small as well, judging from the zoo map on their website, as well as the climate issue.
When elephants develop arthritis and foot problems, they are not only at risk of infection from standing on hard surfaces, but from falling as well. Falling can be fatal for elephants, as their weight can crush them.
These concerns have led animal activist Bob Barker of The Price is Right, as well as organizations such as Zoocheck and PETA, to lobby both the Toronto Zoo and the Edmonton Valley Zoo to move their elephants to one of the two elephant sanctuaries in the southern USA.
While the Edmonton Valley Zoo has been reluctant to move Lucy, their Asian elephant, the Toronto Zoo will be meeting this Thursday to decide what to do with their three African elephants, Thika, Iringa, and Toka. There is speculation that the Toronto Zoo wants to move the elephants down south, but they will likely go to another zoo that is accredited by the the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, of which the two elephant sanctuaries are not a member of. AZA accredited zoos only give animals to other AZA accredited facilities. While this policy makes sense when it protects animals from unscrupulous places such as roadside zoos and the pet trade, excluding the elephants from a legitimate sanctuary is just ludicrous.
The Toronto Zoo has proposed getting more elephants after enlarging the exhibit and elephant barn. That would not only cost 16.5 million, (Which the zoo can not afford), but also futile, as the Toronto Zoo probably couldn’t fit a big enough paddock with the space that they have.
As a Toronto Zoo member, I would like everyone to contact the Toronto Zoo by tomorrow, asking them to send the elephants to a happy retirement at one of the elephant sanctuaries, or at least a warm climate zoo with a huge elephant area.
To contact the Toronto Zoo, e-mail this address: email@example.com
To find out more about Tennessee’s Elephant Sanctuary, and to watch their elephants on “Elecam”, visit www.elephants.com. The California sanctuary, Performing Animal Welfare Society website can be found here.