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Toronto Zoo Elephants In Trouble

Updated on January 14, 2012

The Toronto Zoo Elephants are in trouble

Perhaps you missed it in the news but on the Friday 13th January 2012 the PAWS 'Sanctuary' in Northern California announced the death of 'Sabu', a 29 year old captive bred bull Asian elephant. A sad loss though some may see it as a peaceful release from pain as the unfortunate 'Sabu' had suffered from arthritis for some time. He was actually euthanized.

'Sabu' was born in Portland Zoo, sold to a circus at two years of age (something which would be frowned upon today) and eventually arrived at the California 'Sanctuary' in 2010.

It is known that 'Sabu' had tested positive for TB in 2000 though there was no mention of this as a contributory factor in the death. In fact the TB has not been mentioned at all. This is both as odd as it is disturbing because it is a Animal Welfare Act regulation that 'all captive elephants in the US are periodically tested for TB...and that all of those having close contact are tested on an annual basis'.

So was 'Sabu' cured? Did he no longer have TB?


The TB Question

It is to this same PAWS 'sanctuary' to which the Toronto City Councillors have decided to send the Toronto Zoo elephants.

The councillors took their decision behind closed doors without giving due consideration to the wishes of the Toronto Zoo staff who they fully knew were making their own plans. The councillors were seemingly swayed by the offer of 'free transport' to the so called 'sanctuary' as well as the opportunity to rub shoulders with well meaning though ill informed 'famous' people.

Were the councillors kept in the dark over the TB question? How open has this sanctuary been with its medical records? If it were an AZA approved collection (which it isn't) then these records would be available. It is to an approved AZA collection that the Toronto Zoo staff wanted to send the animals they loved and cared about. Now they have another nightmare of worry.

It is not too late for the councillors to change their minds, to turn down what amounts to a bribe, to see reason and listen to the people who really care about these animals.

More on Zoos


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  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    8 years ago from South East Asia

    Thanks adoramira....please keep yourself updated by reading the mass of evidence there is out there. PAWS is the wrong choice. The other side is out there and I am not out to support something I do not believe in.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    So, let me get this straight.... you're basing your whole stance on ONE case?? And that case is concerning an elephant that had been used as a circus act for TWENTY-FIVE years?? You can't be serious. No, really. You just can't be serious.

    You need MUCH more than that to show actual proof. Maybe do some cross-referencing on success stories vs not-so-successful stories before throwing your, somewhat, one-sided opinions out there? Show both sides if you want support. You certainly don't have mine.

  • aviannovice profile image

    Deb Hirt 

    8 years ago from Stillwater, OK

    Peter, I had NO idea. I have been to the Toronto Zoo.

  • katyzzz profile image


    9 years ago from Sydney, Australia

    I agree with you on this one, elephants are just so wonderful and to think a zoo is not caring for them when the undeveloped world d0es is outrageous. Zoos have a very special responsibility.

  • Meaghan Edwards profile image

    Meaghan Edwards 

    9 years ago from Hamilton, Ontario

    Very good article, Peter.

    I am frankly disgusted by the way the keepers and the zoo have been badmouthed. Every day TZ makes strikes for its animals, and for conservation -- and they do indeed to rescues, but rarely get credit for it. Why is it OK to bash TZ but not criticize PAWS? TB and transport concerns aside (which people have been silenced over, BTW), professional conduct is questionable. Posts which have bashed TZ were "liked" on FB by PAWs.

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    9 years ago from South East Asia

    Thank You for your input Laura's Lists. I agree with you, some of the comments are beyond ridiculous. Actually I do know a little more than some.

  • profile image

    Laura's Lists 

    9 years ago from New Jersey

    Some of these comments are beyond ridiculous. Toronto Zoo has successfully killed how many elephants? Before you start talking about PAWS, do you even know that Sabu was on bull mountain which may as well be in an entirely different state in relation to being near any of the other elephants???? He would have been even farther away if there were a test or hint of TB. Do you know how many animals PAWS successfully cares for?????? You have no idea what you are even talking about.

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    9 years ago from South East Asia

    anzo1- Thank you for your clarification of this point. I sometimes forget that in the US they have different laws in different states.

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    Unfortunately, this statement is completely false: "If it were an AZA approved collection (which it isn't) then these records would be available." Records are not publicly available from all AZA facilities.

    If an AZA facility in the US is city/county/state owned, then a member of the public can request records in accordance that state's open records laws. If not, the zoo would have to voluntarily agree to release the records.

    There is no requirement for privately-run AZA zoos to make their records public.

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    9 years ago from South East Asia

    Thanks bcelefan,

    Biased? Yes possibly I am a little. That said I would have been more than happy for the Toronto elephants were to go to the Paws 'sanctuary' if that was what and the zoo were to decide....but they never got the chance....and the councillors knew the zoo staff were contemplating the issue. I believe the whole thing was decided too quickly by a bunch of people who know nothing about animals and that has got to be wrong. We could do endless comparisons within our own lives where things would be equally wrong. You quote a number of examples of wrong decisions made by various AZA zoos and it is obvious that they were wrong to very wrong in some cases depending on which facts or propganda you sift through. That does not make the Toronto Councillors or PAWS right however.

    If you know anything about me then you will know that I do actually care about animals and want what is best for them and yes because of my zoo background my opinions will be different from those with a 'Born Free' or 'Animal Rights' background. I do though always remain open minded and am prepared to change my opinion on information made available to me.

    Right now I do not believe these animals should go to PAWS and that the Toronto Zoo staff should decide where they should go...and when.

    Thanks for writing....I don't always have time to reply. I get more than my share of emails each day.

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    Peter, I have a question for you - -Can YOU categorically state your comments are not biased due to being a ”former” employee working in a zoo? I find your article actually to be very one sided. As the City Taxpayers are the people who support the Zoo I do understand why the Toronto City Councillors can make this decision. How much does it cost to care for 1 elephant per year? Does the Zoo provide the proper space for the current elephants? You say to a AZA approved Facility. What of the AZA affiliated Have Trunk Will Travel – the AZA is silent regarding the animal abuse and neglect at this facility. Lota comes to mind – Milwaukee County Zoo sold Lota for $1.00 to John Cuneo Jr of the Hawthorn Corporation…her story is an amazing read - google Lota and see the life she endured because of an approved transfer by the AZA! Or look to Edmonton, Lucy ONE elephant by herself. This is against CAZA, AZA and the Government of Alberta Standards for Zoos in Alberta guidelines they should have lost their accreditation years ago! Or how about Wankie from the Lincoln Park Zoo - in a AZA arranged moved from the Zoo just hours before a “hearing” only to die on route. When She collapsed in the crate the Zoo Staff traveling with Wankie let her lay there for the rest of the trip - approx another 17 hours, they were not prepared for an emergency on rout and did not stop or seek help. So in the end CAZA or AZA approved facilities really do not have that great a track record when you look at the big picture. The Toronto City Councillors have made a decision, instead of moving forward you are trying to create unwarranted negativity. As Colleen stated did you contact PAWS for a answer? Everything I posted re the AZA is “out there”, for those who want to verify the info do a search, it is all documented. As for the City Councillors BRAVO, giving these Gentle Giants the opportunity to retire to an “home” where they will have more space than they do now to roam and become elephants!

  • profile image


    9 years ago

    I am kind of a simple stupid person because I care more

    for animals than I do for myself. I have cared for

    felines now for fifteen years, and have never been sick

    because I worry for them more than myself. If I ran a

    zoo I would make sure elephants (large mammals that do

    travel a lot have ample space to satisfy their needs)and

    also make sure there is twenty-four hour watch over each

    and every animal in the zoo for their safety.People would

    then say to me,"My goodness, you sure do take care of

    animals well" - this would be my reward for giving my

    time and money to make sure their life is the best of

    what I can afford and give. I would not put money into

    waterparks, merry-go-rounds, concerts, or anything else

    for humans. Animals come first...after all they are

    being held captive for the people aren't they. God have

    mercy on all captive and abused animals. In fact if I

    have money I would never own a zoo, but rather a large

    sanctuary where, definitely, animals come first and

    people second. Makes good sense to me, because people are

    free to move about as they please, right!!!!!

  • Peter Dickinson profile imageAUTHOR

    Peter Dickinson 

    9 years ago from South East Asia

    Thanks Colleen. So you can categorically state that Sabu was free of TB and that the Toronto City Councillors were fully informed of the situation? That is what the article is about. That and the fact that the Toronto Zoo were never consulted about where the animals they know and love were to be sent. The councillors were simply after a free ride and not concerned about the welfare of the animals. It was easier for them to give in to animal rights than do the right thing. So called 'sanctuaries' are no better than zoos because they ARE zoos and at least the AZA collections go through an inspection. And like zoos there are bad sanctuaries as well as bad zoos. I am not saying that the PAWS sanctuary is bad...what I am saying is that these animals should and must go to an AZA approved facilty.

  • Colleen Geraghty profile image

    Colleen Geraghty 

    9 years ago

    Why didn't the author of this article do the respectful journalism research and pose the question to PAWS before publishing an irresponsible article? Just as the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, PAWS performs the necessary TB tests and keeps their infected elephants separate from the rest until they no longer test positive. There is considerably more done for elephant care in sanctuaries than in any AZA facility as the standards are a thousand times higher for the elephant's mental and physical health. (if you'd like more info on that let me know) So I would suggest to anyone who has a question for PAWS to contact them. They will be more than happy to give you Sabu's medical history. Also the fact is that captive elephants are not 'healthy' for very long - many not even from birth - so by the time they get to a sanctuary most of the damage has already been done - some regain health to a remarkable degree - some regain as much health as possible but it is limited - ALL receive the utmost improved environment for physical and mental health, improved nourishment, socialization, veterinary care and for once in their lives experience what freedom and heaven on earth means. RIP Sabu - those of us that have followed the captive elephant trauma - all know you had the best life and love at PAWS.

  • mackeytableforone profile image


    9 years ago

    Peter: The word "bribe" might catch their attention. Ouch and high five for calling the kettle black.

  • AliciaC profile image

    Linda Crampton 

    9 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

    Thank you for this information, Peter. I wasn't aware of this situation and am very glad that I do now and that you have publicized the problem.

  • theherbivorehippi profile image


    9 years ago from Holly, MI

    Anger and tears. You know...I donate monthly to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee....there is nothing I hate more than to hear of these wonderful creatures being neglected, sick or in pain. Just breaks my heart. Thanks for writing this so more people become aware of what is going on!

  • Miriam Weigand profile image

    Miriam Weigand 

    9 years ago

    This is a very astute and relevant article. I wonder just how concerned the city council really will be over this revelation. I suspect they will try to gloss it over or outright deny it as it means they can't "get rid" of the elephants and off their precious budget as easily now. I for one now have less and less trust in PAWS and even in the Toronto Zoo management as the more you hear about this move and its issues there issues forth from them nothing but a BIG SILENCE!!

    Thank you for bringing this up.

  • Stephanie Henkel profile image

    Stephanie Henkel 

    9 years ago from USA

    This sounds like a sad state of affairs, and a story that should be published in your city newspapers in order to reach people who may be able to influence the Toronto city council.Good luck with your efforts!


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