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The Toronto Zoo's Elephants Won't Forget

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We all know that bureaucracy has its own rules, and if it is ordered to do something with which it disagrees, there are innumerable ways to frustrate achievement.

This is evident in government ministries. Sometimes the minister can order that something be done that the bureaucracy, or "system," disagrees with, and often the minister is hung out to dry while nothing is done to further his wishes.

That was evident when the late Cliff Wenzel, a multi-decorated Second World War bomber pilot, fought for 30 years to get his reduced pension corrected. The bureaucracy stymied all efforts until finally a Defence Minister more stubborn and adamant than his predecessors, forced financial compensation for Wenzel.

Even then, the bureaucracy got even by getting most of the money back through taxes. But Wenzel felt vindicated -- thanks largely to the persistence of Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor, who was also a retired Brigadier-General and knew the system.

A case right now of the "system" foiling those who make decisions concerns the proposed and agreed upon plan to send the Toronto Zoo's three remaining African elephants -- Iringa, Thicka and Toka -- to an elephant sanctuary in California run by PAWS.

Former TV game show host, Bob Barker, who has affection for elephants, has offered to pay nearly $1 million in moving expenses.

City Councilor Michelle Berardinetti, some zoo staff and a couple of veterinarians visited the PAWS sanctuary last December, followed by Council voting to send the elephants to PAWS. However, concerns have been raised about the possibility of TB being rampant at the PAWS sanctuary. The zoo, apparently, doesn't want to give up its elephants. Although Toronto is not a comfortable environment for them, some zoo people insist it's the elephants' welfare that concerns them -- which I'd argue is unlikely. Rather, it's pride and bureaucratic intransigence.

Council wants to send another delegation to PAWS to investigate -- "part of a due diligence process," the Toronto Star quotes zoo CEO John Tracogna as saying.

The Star also quoted PAWS co-founder, Pat Derby, a former Hollywood animal trainer, as saying he's "sick" of the zoo's "witch hunt," and screw'em, he won't agree to another visit. Who can blame him? Even Bob Barker has threatened to cancel his commitment if Toronto continues to bitch and dither.

To some, it seems a predictable case of the bureaucracy -- i.e.: the zoo people who want the prestige of having elephants -- trying to short circuit or sabotage decisions of those who are their bosses. There are always abundant reasons, real or fabricated, for saying no. Delay is a weapon of obstructionists, and the longer it takes to move the Toronto elephants to PAWS, the less likely that it will happen. At least that seems the thinking.

The Star recently ran an article by Keith Lindsay, a conservation biologist and elephant expert who visited the PAWS sanctuary and gave it top rating. Zoos in other cities have realized that elephants need space -- not the postage stamp-sized enclosure Toronto elephants have -- and have moved them. The PAWS sanctuary is 30 Hectares of space.

As for TB, a couple of Asian elephants at PAWS died from arthritis and had TB. But Asian and African elephants roam in separate areas, and tests done every three months show TB is no longer present. Since 1984, seven elephants have died in Toronto Zoo -- four of them since 2006. So cut the red tape, and send them to PAWS as soon as humanely possible.