Toronto Zoo elephant program draws criticism

The Toronto Zoo is facing heavy criticism for the December death of matriarch elephant Tara, the fourth elephant fatality in four years.

In Defense of Animals, a California-based watchdog, recently rated the Toronto Zoo number two among the Top Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants in North America.

The Toronto Zoo made the Top Ten list because of “deadly” conditions for these animals, including the lack of space and cold climate that has produced four death, the group said.

“This is the highest mortality rate for any zoo in North America in the last four years,” said Catherine Doyle, elephant campaigner for the group.

Meanwhile, an elephant expert from Sweden, Dr. Joyce Poole, is urging city council to shut down the elephant program entirely.

In a letter sent on behalf of the group Elephant Voices, Poole pressed council to send the three remaining elephants to a sanctuary, arguing Toronto is no place for elephants.

But some say the hostility toward the zoo is unwarranted. Ward 38 councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, a zoo board member, said the Toronto Zoo is quickly becoming “a green leader.”

“The Toronto zoo is changing,” De Baeremaeker said.  “We’re trying to change the mandate of zoos to be more compatible with species survival and to become places of education and advocacy.”

The Toronto Zoo made little comment, saying only the zoo is working on a long-term plan for its elephant program. That plan includes spending $40 to $50 million in expanding the three-hectare exhibit.

–With files from Nadia Persaud