The Toronto Zoo’s three elephants will be going to the PAWS sanctuary after all, despite concerns raised by zoo officials that the California sanctuary is rife with tuberculosis, and against the recommendations of Mayor Rob Ford’s executive committee.
The executive committee had decided to leave the decision of where to send the three elephants up to the Toronto Zoo Board — essentially reversing a decision made by council more than a year ago, to take retired game show host Bob Barker up on an offer to fly the trio to the California hospice for retired performing elephants.
The zoo staff is looking at sending the elephants to a new facility in Florida that has not yet opened.
That recommendation followed the advice of Toronto Zoo CEO John Tracogna and professional veterinarians there who cited the emergence of tuberculosis among the elephant population at PAWS, as well as its lack of accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
But council saw differently. Scarborough-Rouge River Councillor Raymond Cho moved an amendment to the recommendations that would reaffirm sending the elephants to California. Council supported him 32-8.
The vote ends a tug of war between councillors who support the conservation group Zoo Check and other advocates on behalf of animals, and those who supported the Toronto Zoo staff, who have been consistently opposed to first moving the elephants and then sending them to PAWS.
Etobicoke Centre Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby said council should have more respect for their staff.
“I believe we should listen to our zoo staff or you know what? Fire the whole bunch of them,” she said.
Etobicoke-Lakeshore Councillor Mark Grimes, a supporter of the zoo, said he was “appalled at the way we’re talking to our staff. We might as well let Zoo Check run our zoo.”
Meanwhile, York Centre Councillor James Pasternak chided zoo staff for being obstinate in the face of council’s decision.
“This council made a decision and while I respect the passion from the zoo, the confrontational approach undermines their case,” he said.