After years of lobbying, debating, delays and a seriously long road trip, animal advocates are celebrating a victory with the safe arrival of the Toronto Zoo’s three remaining elephants at a sanctuary.
The three elephants — Iringa, 44; Toka, 43; and Thika, 33 — who were born at the zoo, embarked on a long journey across the continent from Ontario, Canada, to their new home at the Performing Animal Welfare Society’s (PAWS) sanctuary near Sacramento, Calif., where they will spend the rest of their lives being cared for in peace.
A huge thanks to the Care2 members who signed petitions demanding the elephants’ removal from the zoo. Their arrival at PAWS would not have been possible without the continued support of concerned citizens like you.
The trip reportedly went smoothly, and the new arrivals have been given their own private area where they’ll stay to adjust before being slowly introduced to the sanctuary’s three other African elephants. Their world will be expanded exponentially, going from a small enclosure to having about 80 acres of natural habitat to roam with lakes and pools to enjoy.
“We are very happy that Toka, Thika and Iringa are finally here,” PAWS’ president and co-founder, Ed Stewart, said in a statement. “PAWS looks forward to seeing these elephants make the transition from living in a zoo for most, if not all, of their lives, to exploring their expansive new home and meeting our resident African elephants, Lulu, Maggie and Mara. The elephants will receive excellent care from a dedicated staff, as they settle into their new lives at our sanctuary.”
Animal advocates have been working for years to have the elephants moved over concerns for their well being. Following the deaths of four elephants at the zoo and recommendations from the zoo board to spend millions on upgrades or close the elephant exhibit, the city council voted in 2011 to shut it down. After months without a decision about what to do with them, councillor Michelle Berardinetti tabled a surprise motion to send the elephants to PAWS, which passed by a landslide and outraged zoo officials and elephant handlers, reports the Toronto Star.
That move was followed by more disagreements about whether it was the right decision and how to move them. The final trip was funded by Bob Barker, who dished out some criticism stating that it was “disgusting” that the elephants weren’t moved sooner.
“(Zoo staff members) are supposed to be taking care of animals and protecting them. If they had cared anything about the elephants and their health, they would have gotten them out of there a long time ago,” he told reporters.
There are a number of reasons supporters continue to push zoos on the public. Some believe they aid awareness about wild animals and conservation issues by allowing us to see animals we may never otherwise get to. In other cases animals are used as mere political pawns. However, seeing these creatures trapped in unnatural environments that can’t meet their needs despite the level of effort to build appropriate enclosures and care for them doesn’t do anything to teach people about how they live or how they should be respected and protected in the wild.
It’s widely known that elephants in particular don’t do well in captivity. PAWS points out that this move happened amid wider debates about keeping elephants at zoos at all. According to the organization, while some are working to improve their facilities, 25 zoos have closed, or will be closing, their elephant exhibits for reasons that range from a lack of funding to expand exhibits to welfare concerns, such as inadequate space, unsuitably cold climates and insufficient social groups.
Hopefully this trio’s story will raise more awareness about the plight of elephants who are kept in captivity by zoos and the entertainment industry and more people will continue to make decisions that are actually in their best interest.
For updates on how they’re settling in, visit PAWS’ Facebook page.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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