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Elephants Should Turn Up Their Trunks at Toronto

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What seems to be missing in the hullabaloo over the three remaining elephants in the Toronto zoo, is what's best for the animals themselves.

Beyond dispute is that Toronto is not an environment conducive to maintaining contented elephants. Perhaps it's even lethal.

Seven elephants have died at the zoo since 1984. The remaining three elephants -- Toka, Thika and Iringa, all around 40 years old -- are ailing and probably unhappy (how does one tell?).

How could they not be unhappy, living in a climate that is not ideal for elephants, with no space to roam -- maybe half a hectare -- and confined to indoors most of the winter where a cement floor is probably contributes to arthritis -- which was present in some of the other elephants which died here.

Estimates of $40 million needed to improve the zoo's facilities for elephants, including heated floors, are beyond the means of the zoo. Council has voted to eliminate elephants, as have other zoos in Detroit, the Bronx, Edinburgh.

In the midst of this controversy, retired game show host and elephant-lover Bob Barker stepped in last month and offered to pay close to $1 million to transport the three elephants to an elephant sanctuary in California run by PAWS (Performing Animals Welfare Society).

Since the PAWS sanctuary, with something like 30 hectares or land for elephants to roam, it is outside the mandate of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and doesn't encourage tourists, it is resented by zoo people.

Never mind that council has voted to accept Bob Barker's admittedly generous offer, Toronto zoo people are balking. There are even scurrilous rumours floating about.

Various reports have been critical of the PAWS sanctuary, which is not open to the public on the theme that it is a "sanctuary" where elephants live privately among themselves, unbothered by visitors. This presumes that elephants don't like being stared at, which might well be a wrong interpretation of their outlook.

Sometimes people visiting animals in zoos is about the only outside stimulation these animals get to relieve their boredom. This might well apply to elephants.

In answer to criticisms that the PAWS sanctuary may inadvertently mistreat elephants (tuberculosis), the Toronto Star published an article by Keith Lindsay who is a conservation biologist and an advisor for an elephant research project in Kenya.

In his capacity of something of an expert, Lindsay visited the PAWS sanctuary: "I have seen with my own eyes that PAWS is far and away the best place currently available in North America for any captive elephant. I find it very hard to understand why anyone could possibly object to the move of Toka, Thika and Iringa. It should havef happened long ago, and certainly should happen in the near future."

Considering the acrimony and back-biting going on in Toronto, one can't blame Barker if he says to hell with it and withdraws his offer to finance the move of the elephants to the PAWS sanctuary.

If that happens, the elephants would be sent to another zoo -- an accredited zoo, which Toronto zoo no longer is, thanks to petty bureaucratic minds that resent dealing with PAWS.

All we need is for Iringa or one of the other elephants to suddenly die.

Surely seven elephants deaths since 1984 -- four of them since 2006 -- is sufficient evidence that Toronto is a cruel place for these most awesome of large animals, which already are on all endangered species lists.