Toronto Zoo recommends end to elephant program

The Toronto Zoo is being advised to phase out its elephant program and tranfer its three remaining elephants to other zoos.

The Toronto Zoo is being advised to phase out its elephant program and transfer the three remaining animals — Toka, Thinga and Iringa — to Association of Zoos and Aquariums accredited institutions.

The zoo's board released a report from Toronto Zoo staff on Friday that recommends they transfer the elephants to enhanced facilities with animal management programs "as soon as practical." The board will decide on its next steps at its meeting on May 12.

The report says "[d]ue to the significant capital cost to provide appropriate elephant facilities for the future [estimated $16.5 million], the substantial future operating costs of $930,000 annually, and considering the ongoing research study on captive elephants, these factors together have led zoo staff to make this recommendation to the board."

Just keeping the three elephants could prove to be a problem for the zoo.  In order to be accepted as a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) the zoo needs to have a minimum of three animals.  If one were to die, the Toronto Zoo would lose its accreditation.

"While the three elephants are still in good health, the report recommends that they be transferred to one or more accredited AZA institutions.". 

The cost of transferring the three females would be between $30,000 and $50,000.

Activists from Zoocheck Canada had been lobbying to have Toronto's exhibit replaced with an interactive science centre display called the Elephant Labyrinth, which would include videos and activities for children.

The activities can be changed to provide return visitors with a different experience each time and would be more educational than looking at elephants stand around in an enclosure, says Zoocheck.

The group added that the Elephant Labyrinth would cost $15 million, much less than keeping and upgrading the facilities for the elephants.

In April, former U.S. television game show host Bob Barker was in Toronto to appeal to the zoo board.

Barker asked the board to move the animals to a warmer climate.