Three elephants from the Toronto Zoo began their trip to California late Thursday evening. There are a lot of concerns about the trip. The decision to move the elephants south was made by Toronto city council back in 2011 because animal rights activists were worried about the animals’ welfare. They said Toronto’s climate is too cold for the animals and the concrete floor of their enclousure was too hard on their feet. So now the trio of elephants will be moving to the Paws Animal Sanctuary even though there have been concerns as to whether it was the best place for them. The elephants are making trip by truck and it’s expected to take a couple of days. As Melissa Raftis tells us, other zoo keepers are not only concerned about the journey, they’re also raising a flag over a non-disclosure agreement that the group handling the move asked keepers to sign.
Public pressure from animal activists to move the Toronto zoo’s elephants to a warmer climate contributed to the decision to relocate the pachyderms to California. Bowmanville Zoo Director Michael Hackenberger says that pressure lacks proper science to back it up: “I think it’s an excuse put forth by our protagonists to bolster their case.”
Living at the Bowanville Zoo is Canada’s oldest elephant, 53-year-old Limba. An Asian elephant, she is a different species than Toronto’s African elephants but Hackenberger says with the proper care the animals can thrive in cooler weather: “In the wintertime if it’s 30 below, we warm her up inside the barn and she goes outside, she doesn’t stay for hours but on a bright sunny day, absolutely.”
Hackenberger says the key to keeping elephants healthy is to keep them active. Just a human needs exercise, the zoo tries to make sure that Limba gets a minimum of 5,000 steps in per day.
Activists say Toronto’s elephants will experience more space to roam once they reach their new sanctuary which is said to have around 30 hectares of land. But it’s the act of moving the animals that has Hackenberger concerned: “I’ve done the trip. I’ve moved elephants from San Diego to Toronto. It takes a minimum of 72 hours.”
Kitchener trucking company Bell Cartage estimates the trip will take about 50 hours. While they’ve never moved elephants before, the company says 5 handlers including 2 veterinarians will also make the trip. But Hackenberger says he hasn’t seen any indication the elephants will be properly harnessed during the move: “They say the elephants are going to be watered en route, the reality is that when you are going down the road the water sloshes all over the place. Now the elephants are standing in water if they’re standing in water it’s more likely to be slippery. They’re more likely to slip.”
Zookeepers now say they did not have to sign a non-disclosure agreement in order to accompany the elephants as originally planned. But Hackenberger has his own concerns about being blocked from obtaining information: “So what, if this group is purporting to save these elephants, have to hide? I don’t know. But I do know that our attempts to get information related to the journey were denied.”
Hackenberger says in the wild elephants can live to about 50 years old. But because of illegal poaching for ivory, the average lifespan is closer to 10 years. He says by keeping elephants in public places like the Bowmanville Zoo, it helps bring the poaching issue to the attention of North Americans.