Truth For Toronto Zoo Elephants – What you won’t read in mainstream media
The group Zoos Matter has fought tirelessly to stop the proposed transfer of the Toronto Zoo elephants to the PAWS sanctuary. If you do not know of the story please sit back and prepare yourself because the truth about the Toronto Zoo elephants is the most despicable act of animal exploitation at the expense of true animal welfare.
Upon arrival to his new job as CEO of the zoo John Tracogna’s first act was to phase out our African elephant exhibit. The issue cited was money, not enough to do the necessary upgrades.
Toronto had several elephant deaths prior to this decision and by May of 2011 and facilities upgrades were badly needed. Further the AZA had laid out new guidelines for its accredited facilities on the keeping of elephants. All of this meant more money. In 2009 it appeared as if the zoo board was prepared to make these changes but by 2010 and John Tracogna’s arrival this plan had changed. What remained of the zoo’s herd were three healthy and spectacular female African elephants, Iringa (44) and Toka (43) who have lived at our zoo since they were young calves and Thika (32) who was born here.
After the decision in 2011 to phase out the exhibit the zoo undertook a due diligence process to review 7 AZA facilities which had offered to re-home our elephants. By the fall of 2011 they had completed their review and had chosen a plan and a home. The girls were to be relocated to Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida and integrated into a multi generational family herd. This herd would be the first herd eventually relocated to the now newly completed National Elephant Centre in Fellesmere, Florida. At the time of the decision TNEC had not even broken ground. The zoo board had ruled out one sanctuary located in Tennessee due to a tuberculosis outbreak which had occurred in 2009. They had also ruled out west coast facilities due to the long transport distances and the logistics involved, not the least of which was that moving three elephants not accustomed to transport period let alone a 4.5 day road trip was inhumane and unnecessary considering there are other excellent viable facilities much closer.
It is not surprising that the pending announcement was somehow leaked to Zoocheck Canada and City Councillor Michelle Berardinetti. A City Councillor named Glenn DeBaeremaeker is also a zoo board member who has worked closely with Zoocheck and their affiliates for years. Councillor Berardinetti, a self proclaimed animal rights activist worked with Councillor DeBaeremaeker, Councillor/zoo board member Raymond Cho and Zoocheck’s Julie Woodyer to write a motion for council demanding the city send our elephants to PAWS. In fact Julie Woodyer wrote the motion verbatim which was carried in favour of PAWS. The Toronto Zoo is owned by the City of Toronto. Several councillors and some of whom are zoo board members had been colluding with PAWS sanctuary (possibly since 2009) and just prior to the zoo’s announcement they seized control of the elephants with Zoocheck’s motion claiming the elephants as city assets. In a motion without notice (the motion written by Zoocheck) on October 24, 2011 without any site visit or due diligence they overrode the zoo’s professional expertise and authority and chose PAWS as the new home for our elephants. Other than the CEO no zoo vets or senior zoo staff members were at the meeting. Although this is in contravention of Ontario Animal Welfare Laws and regulations to make that decision without a site visit or completed due diligence, the zoo is registered as a research facility in Ontario and exempt from the laws guiding the PAW (Provincial Animal Welfare laws).
This is the Toronto Zoo’s due diligence report and background information:
Background Information (Committee)
(October 18, 2012) Report from the Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Zoo on Elephant Transfer Status Update (here)
(September 25, 2012) Memo with Attachments, from the Toronto Zoo on Elephant Transfer Status (here)
Background Information (City Council)
(November 20, 2012) Supplementary report from the Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Zoo on the Elephant Transfer Due Diligence Review (EX24.30a)
Attachment 1 to the report (November 20, 2012) from the Chief Executive Officer
Toronto Zoo – Due Diligence
Attachment 1 to the Due Diligence
Attachment 2 to the Due Diligence
Attachment 3 to the Due Diligence
Attachment 4 to the Due Diligence
Attachment 5 to the Due Diligence
Attachment 6 to the Due Diligence
Attachment 2 to the report (November 20, 2012) from the Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Zoo
Attachment 3 to the report (November 20, 2012) from the Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Zoo
Councillor Berardinetti and Councillor Raymond Cho did a personal site visit on November 8-10, 2011, the zoo staff went December, 2011. Councillor Berardinetti claimed her trip was a family trip not an official site visit (she has no academic or professional authority to assess PAWS’ viability as a potential home) despite evidence in FOIA indicating that her trip was possibly funded by Zoocheck and PAWS (see here). We are to assume I guess that Councillor Berardinetti often takes family trips with Councillor Cho.
The zoo’s site visit report which was not entirely favourable was never brought to the board or council or made public BUT you can review it here accessed via FOIA. Zoocheck kept pounding home in the media that the zoo was just doing the AZA’s bidding and not concerned with the actual welfare of the animals in question.
The decision by council was challenged immediately by zoo staff, citizens and experts from around the globe on the grounds of bio security issues and tuberculosis as well as the long distance for transport. It was outlined in this blog post from the most comprehensive captive elephant database on the internet. It was discussed at Zoo News Digest. This blog site posted the first USDA documents back in April of 2012 which finally proved there had been a tuberculosis crisis at PAWS.
Meanwhile Zoocheck and Councillors consistently and adamantly refuted any claims of Tuberculosis on site, claiming PAWS had never had a disease issue, that PAWS did not have TB, (news articles). They made this claim again and again in the media while attacking the zoo and its staff accusing them of pushing a “red herring” despite expert testimony to the contrary from Dr. Dale Smith, a zoological disease specialist and pathologist from the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College. Councillors and Zoocheck continued to accuse zoo staff of caring only for their jobs and not for the welfare of the elephants. Meanwhile PAWS, Zoocheck and Zoocheck’s USA counterpart Born Free USA gathered their petition signing troops; the thousands of zealots who will sign anything their spiritual leaders tell them to without question. The media gave Zoocheck and these Councillors’ endless opportunities to spew their ideology and lies in the press while zoo staff was heavily censored by council with new social media policies and threats of job loss. This is still the current the strategy to keep the truth at bay with CEO John Tracogna doing Councillors bidding without question and without any support for the zoo and its staff.
City of Toronto Councillor Correspondence with Zoocheck Canada accessed via Freedom of information
Council’s reasoning against TNEC (supplied to them by Zoocheck in fine print here ) is that they would use elephant hooks despite the use of this tool being limited to calving/birthing and that our elephants are protected contact and would never see an elephant hook. Councillor DeBaeremaeker brought in an Asian styled ankus not an elephant hook as is used in North American elephant management as an example and waved it around council to push the point home comparing it to a crowbar. It was pure ideology driven decision making, propaganda and nothing more. Not only did the zoo claim they would choose no facility which used elephant hooks but they also claimed that they would not choose any facility on the west coast due to the logistics for transport nor would they choose any facility with past or current issues with tuberculosis. City politicians have been willing to bypass the TB and transport issues to cater to their will and anti-zoo beliefs but they will not budge on the limited use of the elephant hook at TNEC. This is because in the end their aversion to TNEC is not because of an elephant hook it is simply because it will breed elephants for the AZA and our council is against either zoos or at least elephants in zoos, they have bought into animal rights propaganda without doing any actual research of their own. They have relied solely on the information which was being provided to them by anti zoo organization Zoocheck Canada, none of them ever contacted TNEC or the AZA for clarification. The AZA has claimed that they will be phasing out the use of an elephant hook by 2014. Zoocheck knew they could play on the heartstrings of the unsuspecting uninformed public with elephant hook propaganda.
If you know anything about politics in the city of Toronto you will know that our current municipal “leaders” are self proclaimed legislators of the future, and they legislate according to a future where they think higher intellect will see zoos as archaic, unnecessary prisons with little or no value to the education or conservation of species and their wild habitats. From my personal experience I have never considered the extremist anti zoo movement to be of a higher intellect.
Our Zoo board chair Joe Torzsok, our CEO John Tracogna and city councillor/zoo board members have done everything in their power to cripple our zoo and its efforts to share with the public their concerns about TB at PAWS. Oppressive social media polices were put in place, gag orders placed on senior vets and staff. Shut up or lose your job sums it up nicely. The AZA pulled the Toronto Zoo’s accreditation citing issues with our governance. The AZA came to the zoo board meeting, on USA Thanksgiving in 2011, and was received poorly. EMA and CAZA came as well, they received the same reception. Zoocheck kindly offered to spoonfeed City Councillors with statements for the media denouncing AZA accreditation as less than the standard of PAWS and that the loss of our accreditation was a bullying tactic by the AZA (pg3) to force a re-decision on PAWS as a home for the girls. You see because of Zoocheck’s media maipulation this was now about zoos vs sanctuaries and the zoo and its supporters were driving this battle in the name of the AZA and not because we were and still are concerned about tuberculosis at PAWS. The pro-PAWS coalition did everything they could to deflect from the seriousness of TB on site. Here in PAWS own newsletters from 2012 you can read where they disparage the Toronto Zoo and the AZA (in breach of contractual agreements). Of course these are the same people, Zoocheck and Councillors, who misled the media accusing zoo staff of being motivated by fear of job loss, see here and here – knowing full well that no staff would be losing their jobs.
In January of 2012 a bull elephant named Sabu died at PAWS. As a result of Sabu’s death a citizen led group called Zoos Matter began what has become an almost 2 year battle. He had only been there for 18 months and he was just 29 years old. Sabu was one of two elephants and $270,000.00 which PAWS agreed to take as a result of a legal settlement with Ringling Brothers/Feld Entertainment. Red flags were raised. It took less than a week to hunt down supporting evidence that Sabu likely died from TB. His previous caregivers stated publicly that Sabu showed no signs of lameness or illness when he left their facility to travel to PAWS.
In an email between Zoocheck’s Julie Woodyer and Councillor DeBaeremaeker Zoocheck claims PAWS had no idea Sabu had TB, and that his previous caregivers, Two Tails Ranch had not told them. Of course anyone who has researched this would know full well that Sabu’s previous positive diagnosis for TB 10 years earlier is widely available on the internet from USDA documents posted by PETA in their media file series on circuses. By April of 2012 FOIA indicated that in fact Sabu did die TB+, but prior to that in February Zoos Matter was able to provide enough evidence so that the Zoo Board and CEO at the very least were required to allow the zoo vets to investigate this death and other possible TB deaths at PAWS. Despite these concerns in February of 2012 the zoo and the zoo board went ahead and signed a legal agreement with PAWS. PAWS claimed that Sabu died of severe genetic arthritis and the tissue cultures would take up to 8 weeks. They never willingly shared the tissue culture results; these were accessed via Freedom of Information. Even after the FOIA evidence which surfaced in April of 2012 indicated he died TB+ and with not one but two strains of TB they still claim he died “from euthanasia due to degenerative bone disease”. Evidence indicates that PAWS knew for some time that Sabu was actively infected again. In a blog post dated July 13, 2011 by a visiting sanctuary owner Karl Cullen he discusses how Sabu was under full quarantine and that he and staff had to wear protective masks and gloves. They knew full well Sabu was TB+ was early as the summer of 2011. This was months before council seized control of the Toronto Zoo elephants and made the decision to send them to PAWS promising that THERE WAS NO TUBERCULOSIS AT PAWS.
PAWS claim that Sabu had died from severe arthritis was basically a lie or at the very least not the whole truth. Advanced severe arthritis was obviously a symptom aggravated by his positive tuberculosis infection. When the FOIA was finally accessed in April of 2012 it was proven conclusively that Sabu died TB+. No media outlet called Zoocheck or the Councillors or PAWS out on why they had publicly maintained for so long there had been no TB at PAWS when it was clear and evident they had known for months that he was ill with the disease. That same FOIA indicated that another Asian elephant named Rebecca had died in January of 2011 TB+, again with not one but 2 strains of TB. Her second strain of TB was new to elephants and had no match in the global tuberculosis databases as per a search done by the CDC. By their own admission in the graphs included with the Dr. Cork report and in FOIA PAWS and their Vet Dr. Gai admit Rebecca’s treatments were ceased three years prior to her death (here pg. Pg.25/pg.2 of necropsy report) To date no investigations have determined where this second strain of tuberculosis came from.
Further FOIA indicates that prior to her death and the positive STATPAK reactions of the two herd mates exposed (Annie and Wanda) all trunk prior trunk washes and STATPAKs had been negative (here pg. 26-27). Dr. Gai admits that they had no idea Rebecca was TB+ until AFTER she died and that no staff wore any protective gear. The zoos own site visit report indicated this as they were not allowed to inspect 3 out of the 5 barns on site at PAWS. It was clear and evident that the disease prevention protocols at PAWS were in serious trouble and that our allegations and the concerns of senior zoo staff and vets were not unfounded. We were able to determine with common sense, research and then FOIA evidence that two elephants, Annie and Wanda had been exposed to Rebecca’s TB, Rebecca had not been in quarantine, again evidenced in FOIA from California State Health because PAWS had no clue she was Tuberculosis +. As a result of exposure eventually Annie converted to active TB in June 2012. How is this NOT a tuberculosis outbreak? And how is this World Class Bio Security Protocols? According to Pat Derby’s own accrediting body GFAS they are world class,
Yes, they accredit themselves.
Through freedom of information requests and research we were able to prove that PAWS actually had a tuberculosis outbreak with TB transmission on site which included 3 elephants (3 that have been documented), the transmission was entirely their fault due to bio security protocol failure as they had no idea the source elephant was TB+ until after her death. They and their affiliates on council along with Zoocheck Canada who acts as PAWS agents here in Toronto lied outright to the media. Zoos Matter did the job City Council failed to do. This pro-PAWS coalition also engaged in a media campaign to disparage and malign the zoo and its staff to undermine staff motives for opposition, basically to turn people against the zoo and deflect the media from the real issue at hand, tuberculosis. The media willingly complied. Staff have been harassed and stalked on social media by activists who file complaints to the city and CEO if any staff say anything about this transfer publicly. Senior vet staff have also been threatened with job loss if they continue to fight, research or refuse to sign off on anything PAWS related. City Councillor Glen DeBaeremaeker even went so far as to encourage the senior vet staff at the zoo to resign if they felt they were being forced to engage in unethical activities. He said he would resign if it were him, we wonder why he has yet to resign considering the lack of ethics of forcing three healthy animals to a facility with a known disease outbreak simply to satisfy personal extremist dogma. Meanwhile while Zoocheck and Councillors had the media focusing on staff issues they were misleading everyone about tuberculosis at the sanctuary, sort of like how a magician says look closely at this hand while I trick you with the other hand.
Now that tuberculosis had been proven on site Zoocheck, PAWS and Councillors began claiming that the African herd was safe from TB, that the STATPAK tests and trunk washes for the LIVING elephants were clear. They were very careful to use the word “living”. Councillors, Zoocheck and PAWS were quick to state that although they previously hailed the STATPAK test as the gold standard in diagnoses of TB and that they were leaders amongst facilities with elephants using that diagnostic they quickly changed their tune when FOIA indicated positive Statpak reactions in Rebecca’s herd mates, they flip flopped and stated trunk washes were gold standard. Trunk wash is of course an unreliable test and this can be evidenced here and here (elephantcare.org), citing a case in Sweden and a TB outbreak where five elephants were affected. Of 189 trunk wash samples collected, only 7 were positive from the 5 elephants that were confirmed (on post mortem) to be infected with TB (Moller 2005, Moller 2006, Lewerin 2005). What is Gold Standard is a tissue culture, as we know trunk wash is only good if a) the sample is not contaminated with foreign substances and b) the animal in question is actually shedding the organism when the trunk wash is conducted (elephants shed the TB bacilli intermittently so it is hit and miss with more miss than hit). Furthermore it had been evidenced in the TB case of Rebecca that an infected animal can show a negative STATPAK result or the results can be misinterpreted for animals previously infected or treated and that trunk wash tests failed to diagnose TB at PAWS, claiming the African herd is clean means nothing based on the failed diagnostic history of their Asian herd. On an airing of the television program The Agenda Councillor Berardinetti admits she knew about the tuberculosis. Here is a link from the Live Chat file from TVO’s The Agenda with arguments and commentary by Zoocheck Canada’s Julie Woodyer, PAWS supporters vs Toronto Zoo supporters, well worth the read. I can tell you that commentators on behalf of the zoo were Zoos Matter team members and not zoo staff as Ms. Woodyer would have everyone believe.
When FOIA documents finally evidenced that in fact there was tuberculosis on site and that there had been on-site transmission PAWS, Zoocheck and Councillors began their media campaign claiming that the elephants in question had been in quarantine and that all proper procedures had been followed. In a presentation to the Toronto Executive Committee Meeting in November, 2012 Annie’s likely positive TB status and quarantine issues were brought forward by a deputant as well as evidence of the Africans and Asians sharing one barn and how it was logistically impossible to quarantine any of the elephants based on the availability of barn space. We had reviewed multiple videos, photographs, blogs and news stories, scoured our FOIA- we left no stone unturned. They claimed the two affected Asians were in quarantine at a time when Sabu was still alive, we asked the question where? There was no available barn until Sabu’s death in January of 2013. With one barn for the Africans females, one for the Asians and the three bull barns all occupied until Sabu’s death they were simply out of barns. According to the Zoos Site Visit report there is no quarantine barn at Ark2000. According to that same report the zoo vets and staff were only allowed to inspect two out of the five barns on site.
Now that Annie is TB+ we imagine she is living alone, likely in one of the bull barns. You know, alone, a lone elephant like the kind of elephant Zoocheck promotes is being treated inhumanely in zoos because they are sad and isolated. In fact according to The Dr. Cork report despite be diagnosed as TB+ in June of 2012 Annie had still not been begun treatments by November 27, 2012, six months after her positive diagnosis. So not only was she living alone but potentially dying from tuberculosis as well. We made this public and not one activist organization had any problem with it. I imagine if a zoo did not treat an animal for 6 months? Zoocheck would be outraged. People were certainly outraged when this recently happened in France. This news article mentions the one barn and quarantine of Tinkerbelle. Ruby did not have a proper quarantine, just 10 days after her arrival she was introduced to the African herd, she was able to touch the other Africans in the barn as soon as she arrived at Ark2000. Evidence of the shared barn can be found here and here.
Eventually zoo staff were denied second site visit by Pat Derby.
Considering they had no idea Rebecca was TB+ when she died and wore no protective gear and that Rebecca infected 2 other elephants (one of which is now TB+) and they had no physical means to quarantine while Sabu was still alive (all 5 barns were being used) our concerns over bio security at PAWS grew with every passing day. It was in fact much more serious than we had possibly imagined. An extensive research project was underway to investigate the detailed histories of each elephant at PAWS. We focused on a particular African elephant named Ruby who had died three months after Rebecca with no cause of death determined and who had a high risk history of TB exposure. At the same time the zoo vet staff were demanding medical histories on the Africans and PAWS was not cooperating with these requests as evidenced in the Zoos Transfer status update on September 25, 2012. It was at this time PAWS and Zoocheck made some very public media statements accusing the zoo staff of undertaking unnecessary delays – unnecessary delays?
Asking for tissue cultures from a deceased African elephant to determine its disease status at time of death is not unnecessary it is what any zoological professional should expect and demand. Not having tissue cultures done for Ruby was the epitome of unprofessional and there is no reasonable explanation as to why the cultures were not done. To date there has been no mention in the media about the missing cultures which are crucial to determine the disease status of the African herd at PAWS. Councillors made numerous claims that our zoo was motivated by pressure from the AZA not animal welfare, remember the zoo lost its accreditation due to governance issues. Basically the AZA felt our zoo had no control over the future and welfare of its animals and the AZA was correct. Under the guidance of CEO John Tracogna and Zoo Board Chair Joe Torzsok, pressured by City Council/Councillors/Zoo Board members we had now lost our AZA accreditation with the potential loss of CAZA and our government research facility accreditation looming. Councillors continued to make many claims in the media disparaging our zoo and its staff. Evidence via FOIA indicated these councillors again were being spoon fed statements by Zoochecks Julie Woodyer.
The zoo was finally granted access to the medical documents under strict guidelines outlined by Zoocheck, only the CEO could review them he could not take notes or make copies and Zoocheck’s Julie Woodyer had to be present, Woodyer even requested the meeting be videotaped. Again citing legal obligations to previous owners they did not want the information made public. We could not understand what previous owners of the African elephants were so concerned about. The LA Zoo’s TB outbreak was widely publicized, San Francisco’s TB troubles were also known. 71’s previous owner had passed away many years ago and Maggie was a lone elephant from Alaska. Eventually vet staff was allowed to review the documents as it was clearly ludicrous not to mention suspicious not to have veterinary staff review the documents. But it was certainly strategically advantageous for PAWS to maintain the façade of world class bio security protocols by preventing veterinary experts’ access to information which might undermine those world class claims. Eventual FOIA from the University of Calgary evidenced what the vets found in those reports
According to PAWS and Zoocheck the vet for PAWS at the time of Ruby’s death was the vet they were parading around as an expert, Dr. Mel Richardson. The same vet who at the November 2012 City of Toronto Executive Committee Meeting had no idea how many elephants had died at PAWS under his supposed watch. That would be 6, in four years. It is pretty hard to not remember that 6 elephants died while under your “expert” veterinary care. In fact all the PAWS supporters and deputants at that meeting were asked the same question; none of them knew the answer. Dr. Richardson has been involved in cases where he has made ocular inspections of an animal like Mali, the elephant in Manila Zoo (here) only to be disproven by an IUCN expert who had access to Mali’s blood sample. Dr. Richardson is a paid advocate for animal rights groups in the USA and far from impartial. At the November 27, 2012 City Council meeting to re-vote on this issue no public or citizen deputations were allowed however they allowed a video-taped deputation from Dr. Richardson.
The zoo rightfully requested the tissue cultures on Ruby, PAWS stated they had no more medical documents to give. According to Zoo staff PAWS was uncooperative throughout the entire due diligence process as stated in the Zoo’s Elephant Transfer update press conference on September 25, 2012. As a result of this press conference PAWS sent a legal letter to the Toronto Zoo Board in October, 2012. PAWS considered the statements of the zoo at this meeting to be defamatory, indicated in City of Toronto FOIA email from Julie Woodyer. FOIA requests to USDA, California Fish and Game and California Health Department came up empty, proving that no tissue cultures were ever done on Ruby. Clearly if tissue cultures were done and TB was found and officially documented in their African herd PAWs would not currently be in receipt of the Toronto zoo elephants, they would not have been considered in the first place and likely would have been restricted by their local and federal agencies from integrating any new elephants into what is basically their financial life blood, their African herd at PAWS. Both their Asian and African herds would be considered high risk for tuberculosis. They would have no means to accept any new elephants of any species. FOIA indicated that PAWS had a human case of sero conversion to tuberculosis (here pg.12). Zoos Matter followed up and accessed the genotypes (and here) for the two current cases of human tuberculosis (as of January 2013) in PAWS’s Calaveras County. Those genotypes did not match any of the documented TB strains of any PAWS elephant but they did match an elephant named Calle. We followed the elephant trail and easily connected Calle’s strain of TB to the African herd and to PAWS through two Asian elephants, Calle (deceased from tuberculosis) and Tinkerbelle (deceased complications from chronic foot infections).
Ruby had lived with an Asian elephant named Gita at the LA Zoo. After Gita died in June of 2006 Ruby was transferred to PAWS in May of 2007 where she lived in a shared barn with both the Asians and Africans until late 2009, all the female elephants shared this one barn since 2004. Detailed reviews of dated photographs, videos and news articles and in PAWS and Pat Derby’s own words (and here) evidence this. LA Zoo had a TB outbreak from 1997-2000. Before living with Ruby Gita lived 2 other Asians, Annie (not PAWS Annie who is now TB+) and Calle. Both Annie and Calle died from tuberculosis. Annie died on March 22, 1997 from tuberculosis at the LA Zoo, Calle was transferred to San Francisco Zoo where she lived with an Asian named Tinkerbelle. Tinkerbelle was transferred to PAWS in November 28, 2004 and died just 4 months later from severe foot infections Calle died March 6, 2004 of tuberculosis at San Francisco Zoo in 2004. Pat Derby can be seen here handling Tinkerbelle without proper protective gear. One has to wonder with such compromised health issues why activists demanded that Tinkerbelle be transferred in the first place and not humanely euthanized at the zoo. One can only imagine that perhaps PAWS’s arrogance drove them to believe they could magically heal her. Nevertheless there are no tissue cultures for Tinkerbelle either. One other elephant came from the San Francisco Zoo, an African named Lulu who currently lives in the PAWS African herd. Of the three remaining Africans at PAWS two are in the same age range as Toronto’s Thika. PAWS has claimed that our elephants will be their last. At some point that African herd will be down to 2 then 1, living a life of solitude. At the National Elephant Center there will always be family groups of elephants, they will never be alone or die alone.
Without Ruby’s tissue cultures PAWS cannot prove there is no Tuberculosis in the African herd. Statpak tests have proven to be useless when animals have already been exposed to or infected with TB (evidenced in Rebecca’s case) and trunk washes are notoriously unreliable. This is all evidenced by PAWS own experiences as all trunk washes for Rebecca, Annie and Wanda were negative (pg.26-27) even up until Rebecca’s death from tuberculosis. According to the Dr. Cork report and the information supplied to them by PAWS, the sanctuary has NEVER had a positive trunk wash result? How exactly did they diagnose Sabu? Somehow Rebecca’s STATPAK test was misdiagnosed as she would have had some kind of reaction due to her past history of exposure and treatment. Her STATPAK tests would have presented with positive reactions which must have been misinterpreted as residual from her previous diagnosis for TB back in 2002 (she was treated at PAWS). One has to wonder if Ruby’s Statpak tests, due to treatment and exposure would have shown some kind of reaction that was also misdiagnosed. Imagine their panic when upon necropsy of Ruby they found a bronchial mass. Not having this cultured was irresponsible elephant management practise and evidence of reckless bio security FAILURE. There can only be one explanation as to why cultures were not done and I will leave that up to you to evaluate.
The evidence of risks of tuberculosis within the African herd at PAWS is near conclusive. It can only be “near” as there are crucial missing pieces of medical information which would determine once and for all if the herd had been exposed; tissue cultures for both Ruby and 71. Toronto City Council refuses to listen to anything which might challenge their egos and dogma and our CEO is pandering to council to save his 200k a year job despite having the legal right according to the contract to say no on the grounds of tuberculosis. (Item 17). The entire senior professional staff at the Toronto Zoo is against this transfer and their professional authority has been overridden by politicians and animal rights groups. By October 2012 there were threats of legal action against the Toronto Zoo and a Swedish blogger and keeper/creator of the internet’s most comprehensive database on captive elephants worldwide had also been threatened with legal action by PAWS.
On November 5, 2012 by order of the Toronto Executive Committee council was to re-vote on this issue. You can review some of the recorded deputations from the meeting here. You would think with the overwhelming evidence of tuberculosis transmission on site and the attempts to cover this up and keep it from the zoo and the people of Toronto that council would have had the good sense to re-evaluate their earlier decision. Instead Toronto Council adopted what they claim was an independent report which stated PAWS’s bio security was in good stead, The Dr. Cork report. We have evidence that this report was commissioned by and paid for by Zoocheck Canada (here and here and here pg.7) and that Dr. Cork based her report entirely on information supplied to her by PAWS. FOIA evidences that Zoocheck requested the report on behalf of the City of Toronto yet no record exists of any official or unofficial request of this nature from the City or Councillors, just the email request from Zoocheck’s Julie Woodyer. Council chose this report over the Toronto Zoo staff’s due diligence report (supporting DD documents here) so that they could move forward with the move to PAWS despite the overwhelming evidence of tuberculosis risks. By doing so Council could claim the due diligence was complete and then Zoocheck could lobby the Royal Canadian Air force for a plane and at the same time apply for road transport permits in case RCAF refused. The significance of the Dr. Cork report.
The report provided by Dr. Cork was potentially “misleading” based on subsection 11 of Canadian Federal CITES law WAPPRIITA , and a proper assessment should be conducted by CANADIAN Federal authorities or more neutral parties, on the grounds that the USDA sent two infected/exposed specimens to PAWS (by their own admission) and might not be the most impartial agency to conduct due diligence review. (Here)
The Health of Animals Act states that no person should conceal the existence of disease . There are instances where PAWS refused to comply with requests for more information (tissue cultures) and the failure to allow the Toronto Zoo vets access to the quarantined barns (here) as concealment of disease. We also have evidence of Councillors misleading the public in the media about tuberculosis at PAWS and going so far as to claim there was no TB at PAWs at a time when FOIA indicates there was.
From the get go it was stated by council and the zoo board that relocation to PAWS would require air transport, that air transport was the most humane mode of transport for such a long transport distance, 4200km give or take a few hundred for detours. It was never etched in stone, city motions and rulings do not say air transport only but it was verbally stated by Councillors and the Zoo staff, the Zoo Board and quoted in the media, city council meetings and in FOIA correspondence.
- Toronto Zoo Due Diligence (pg.5-6)
- Toronto Zoo Board Meeting Nov.20/2012 (pg.5)
- City Councillor Email Correspondence (pg.8)
Zoocheck and PAWS won public favour by having Bob Barker, to much media fanfare promise $800,000.00 to fly the elephants. For 18 months this is what they said. The first plane was an Antonov-124 Russian cargo plane with a low pressure cargo hold which would have broken international aviation laws and would have been a medical health risk to the elephants. We challenged this on social media and at City Hall as unsafe and dangerous. Regardless of the concerns Councillors and Zoocheck pushed for the transport in this plane and to top it off they pushed for it in the month of August of 2012, the hottest month of the year. We successfully fought this and won but PAWS with their seemingly infinite bank account put out a press release claiming they had decided to delay the transport on those dates due to the heat and inherent risks, you can read their claims here (Toronto Star) and here (CBC News). The press release appeared as a news article and went viral. But recent FOIA indicates that they were fully prepared to transfer the elephants in that plane during that month. Councillor Cho made several failed attempts to bring a Motion without Notice on this issue to force the August transport date at a July, 2012 Council Meeting. That transfer date accommodated the plane’s schedule in North America and in Zoocheck’s own words would save Bob Barker a few hundred thousand dollars. Better off dead than captive bred, even if it means killing these elephants in an effort to get them to what activists claim is “freedom”. Tuberculosis is not freedom, dying en route to a sanctuary is not freedom. Being sacrificed in the name of a cause is not freedom, it is exploitation. Do not be fooled by well crafted expensive press releases, it was not PAWS, Zoocheck Bob Barker or the pro-PAWS City Councillors who stopped that August transport. It was lobbied hard by citizens and by zoo supporters. Zoocheck and PAWS were more than willing to follow through with transport in August of 2012 but it was stopped. They were more than willing to transport the elephants in this unsuitable aircraft during the hottest month of the year and now we are to consider and value their “expertise” on their mode of transport changes and a 4200km non-stop road trip?
Now it is August of 2013. Almost 2 years later. Many on council are driven by their refusal to pay the transport costs and their decisions have nothing to do with what is best for our elephants. Others are driven at this point by ego refusing to admit they made a mistake, and the driving force behind support for PAWS is extremist anti-zoo ideology and money. Imagine the momentum for large animal rights organizations when they can hail this as a victory over the AZA, a victory against zoos.
I saved the most despicable for last. After almost 2 years of promises Zoocheck have claimed that they cannot find a commercial plane (pg 10) large enough to transport the crate for our largest elephant, Thika. At least this is what they told the Department of National Defence (here). The first plane, the Anotnov-124 was deemed unsafe and would violate IATA transport laws for live animals. The Toronto Zoo elephants are massive and with crate dimensions included Zoocheck claims there is no plane large enough to load and unload through a plane’s cargo doors despite having been given a perfectly viable air transport plan by a reputable elephant transport specialist. The zoo CEO and Zoo Board Chair have allowed Zoocheck and PAWS to interpret the contract and Council motions in such a way that Active Environments now have control over the mode of transport; there is no evidence that this company has ever undertaken a move of this size and distance. They have now chosen to truck the elephants the 4200km to PAWS. In a letter written to the DND by PAWS’s lawyers in Toronto Zoocheck claims the road trip will take 4.5 days and that no commercial option is available (even though there were viable commercial quotes). This was to influence the DND to commit a RCAF plane to transport the elephants. Of course transporting them by RCAF would make a great news story and excellent PR for PAWs, Zoocheck and the Councillors involved in this travesty of justice. The request to the DND and RCAF was all over the media as if it was a done deal when a detailed review had yet to be conducted to assess the logistics. One of the 8 questions asked by the DND was whether or not there were any commercial options; they cannot compete with a commercial operator if one is available (here Pg.10). Zoocheck claimed there was no viable commercial offers, publicly in the media and privately with their contributions to the 8 question response from the City of Toronto to the DND and in a legal letter (here pg.8-10) sent by PAWS lawyers in Toronto. The City of Toronto even sent an official request to the DND also stating that there was no commercial option. However City of Toronto FOIA indicates that a viable and legal commercial quote from an experienced elephant transport company was forwarded to the DND. Is this why the RCAF deal never flew? One can only wonder. I imagine the DND does not take kindly to being lied to. At no point in any of the FOIA do Zoocheck, the zoo’s CEO or Board Chair or City Officials mention the previously submitted commercial quote to the DND or the reason why they may have rejected it. To our knowledge, having reviewed the commercial proposal it met all the legal and ethical requirements for safe and humane air transport. The DND only found out about the quote submission because the company in question forwarded the quote themselves. (here Pg.11)
Keep in mind the Toronto Zoo elephants have limited travel experience, only once for the older ones in their youth and Thika has never travelled. They are protect contact elephants, once they are on those crates they are stuck there for 4200km. All feeding, watering, feces removal and vet care must be done through the crate openings. In case of an emergency only a crane can remove the crates and once crates are removed as protected contact elephants they need to be offloaded at a zoological facility equipped to manage the girls and provide space for them. You cannot predetermine the timing of a medical emergency, and if one of these elephants has a medical emergency the odds while driving across the Midwest of being close to a facility which meets these criteria are pretty slim. (map). Active Environments are not a transport company, they are a training and management company who have been given control over a transport plan of three elephants unlike anything they have ever undertaken before. Contrary to what has been claimed AE is not the company which executed all of the logistics to transport the African elephant Maggie by plane to PAWS from Alaska, it was in fact the company which offered the commercial quote to transport the Toronto Zoo elephants by air. It just makes you go hmmmm?
It would appear from the most recent City of Toronto FOIA that Zoocheck has convinced Bob Barker that the zoo staff will somehow attempt to disrupt the loading and transport process. Their job has been to train the elephants to enter their crates, they have done this. Active Environments are claimed to be expert elephant trainers and PAWS claims this too, surely now that the elephants have been trained by the award winning elephant management team at the Toronto Zoo PAWS and Active Environments can load them onto a couple of trucks? But as a result of more childish manipulation by Zoocheck Mr. Barker is hesitant to put the money up front for the costs of air transport despite making this promise in the media again and again. It seems Zoocheck’s constant private (in emails) and public media antics disparaging the zoo staff have likely planted this fear in his head and as a result the girls are now forced to be transported by road, it has nothing to do with our elephants being too big for transport by air. It has everything to do with money and deceit. City Council is willing to risk these elephant’s lives to save a few bucks or cater to animal rights ideology and it appears these so called animal welfare activists are willing to do the same. After being accused of having nefarious and selfish motives for two years now it seems that the only people who are truly concerned about the true welfare of these animals are the zoo staff and citizens who have fought this transfer from day one.
Better off dead than captive bred? Seems this catch phrase for the anti zoo movement will hold true if we allow a horse transport company to transport 3 elephants, 44yrs, 43yrs and 32yrs non-stop over 4200km into the cold westerly climate and temperatures of the Rocky Mountains in the month of October only to face possible tuberculosis exposure. All in the name of animal welfare?
Our source at a USA agency informs us that PAWS and Zoocheck are now currently lobbying USA government agencies with an application for a variance to waive the 28hr law so that they can drive with limited or no stops to California, 4200km. Rob Laidlaw has indicated in email correspondence that they will truck these elephants non-stop for what he claims is a 50 hour trip. It is likely to exceed 50hrs and that is not taking into consideration the unforeseen, that which you cannot predict. One only has to recall last summer’s tragic death during transport of three seals from an Ontario zoo, a move and a transfer which was initiated by and pushed by Zoocheck Canada. Two of the seals died within hours of the start of the move, one died later after it arrived at the St. Louis Zoo, Zoocheck of course blamed the transporter and the zoo.
We feel this entire transfer is inhumane but the Toronto Zoo is a registered research facility in Ontario and therefore exempt from the Animal Welfare Laws which could challenge this as inhumane. However according to the Animal Welfare laws in Ontario this transport is inhumane. According to what WSPA Canada lobbies for on behalf of livestock in transport to slaughter it is inhumane. According to the 28Hr law in the United States it is inhumane and according to PETA if a circus transfers an animal for this length or time, chained and immobile it is inhumane. According to many animal welfare activists it is INHUMANE and according to The Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Animal Welfare Act they enforce it is inhumane. And finally according to the Federation of Canadian Humane Societies, exceeding the duration of recommended transport times by the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies qualifies as putting an animal in “distress” (here pg.13 subsection 64) and (here). In fact The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies does not recommend transportation longer than 52 hours for farm animals so the land transport plan of 50+ hours is in direct contravention of what is cited in the Federal Health of Animals Act. Because guess what? It is inhumane to transfer three disease-free animals (two ageing) 4200km cross country chained in a crate on a truck for 4.5 days to a facility with a known tuberculosis outbreak and risks in the herd they will be integrated into. It is inhuman because there is a closer, disease free facility willing to take these elephants. For $250k in cost savings to transport to Florida the City of Toronto will risk the lives of the Toronto Zoo elephants. And for those of you who are thinking why don’t you contact these organizations? We have. Not one has responded to our emails of concern over this inhumane and unethical transport and transfer. They support a transport plan which is considered less humane than what is legally allowable and ethically acceptable for animals being sent to slaughter?
In a nutshell it is an animal welfare nightmare where ideology has taken precedence over the true welfare and well being of these three elephants. Facts, science and common sense are ignored and replaced by some kind of desperation to have these elephants at any cost, including risking their lives in transport or to tuberculosis. Councillor Raymond Cho at the November 27, 2012 council meeting said “Our elephants are so old anyway what difference does it make if they die from tuberculosis”, he honestly said this! Councillor Josh Matlow said “If the elephants could choose for themselves, don’t you think they would choose to take this risk?” He admits there is a risk and clearly council is willing to take that risk with these elephant’s lives in order to remain infallible and cater to their ideology or save a few bucks. You can view the archives of the meeting (here) and review the motions (here). Ironically if council had allowed the zoo to make the decision the elephants would be in Florida, they would have already been there for an entire year which would have saved the city over one million dollars. And more ironically animal rights groups claim zoos exploit animals for profit, greed and gain. In the case of the Toronto Zoo elephants the only people exploiting these elephants are the animal rights groups and their supporters, using Iringa, Toka and Thika as poster children for their campaigns, personal philosophies and a victory against zoos. As you can see it is a political nightmare where we have proof and evidence that PAWS is the wrong facility for these elephants and that their lives will be risked with such a long transport and then further risked due to tuberculosis risks in the African herd.
Our elephants can contribute the future of wild elephants and aid in the improvement of captive elephant care in zoos in North America if they are a part of the new program at TNEC. TNEC will train zoos and zoo keepers how to use protected contact in order to phase of the use of elephant hooks, the Toronto Zoo elephants as training models from an award winning elephant management program at the Toronto Zoo would have aided in phasing out the elephant hook in all AZA facilities. Instead they will be tucked away at PAWS where only the well to do who can afford the $250 a day entrance fee will ever see them. At PAWS they will aid in raising money for PAWS and their affiliates like Born Free USA and In Defense of Animals to further campaign against zoos. Campaigning with millions of dollars salvation for the 450 elephants in captivity in North America which is about 1% of the total number of wild elephants which are slaughtered for their ivory every year. Did this all come down to no one wanting to or being able to put up the money up front to be reimbursed later by Mr. Barker? The promise and commitment to air transport was made and they cannot deliver, the promise there was no tuberculosis was made and it was untrue. This contract was signed under false pretences and broken promises. The CEO of the Toronto Zoo John Tracogna has the power to veto this contract and he chooses to pander to politicians and pay cheques instead of listening to the zoological professionals. This transfer has to be stopped.
What the public doesn’t know:
- The African elephants at PAWs shared a barn with the currently TB infected Asian elephants for almost 5 years
- The last African elephant to die at PAWS (who had a high risk history of exposure to TB including at PAWS) had no cause of death determined. No tissue cultures done on this elephant, Ruby. Ruby lived with Asian elephant Gita who lived with two now deceased from TB elephants Annie and Calle. Toronto Zoo vets noted that a mediastinal bronchial mass was found at Ruby’s necropsy, the tissues were not cultured
- 71 a deceased African Elephant had no tissue cultures done
- Ruby was treated at LA Zoo as a precautionary measure (LA Zoo had a TB outbreak 1997-2000)
- Tuberculosis has a 2-20 incubation period
- Latent tuberculosis is difficult to diagnose in a living elephant
- The 2nd strain of tuberculosis found in deceased Rebecca at PAWS is a new strain of TB not previously known to elephants, where did Rebecca get this strain?
- Sabu died TB+, he also had a second strain of TB different from the one he was diagnosed with in 2001
- The people of this city do not know that Councillors Berardinetti and DeBaeremaeker literally lied to them about TB at PAWS. They also lied about staff, blaming them for this opposition and DeBaeremaeker in several incidences claimed that zoo staff were going to lose their jobs when this is entirely untrue.
- Annie was treated when statpak reactive for one year and STILL converted to active TB
- They had no idea Rebecca was TB positive until after she died so no protective gear was worn by staff
- All Statpak and trunk wash results for Rebecca, Annie and Wanda were negative prior to Rebecca’s conversion
- 2 elephants were exposed and infected on site at PAWS
- There is a confirmed case of human tuberculosis transmission at PAWS (see relevance here as it pertains to Ruby deceased African elephant) and here, here and here
- The two active cases of human TB in PAWS County, Calaveras County match the elephant named Calle, deceased from tuberculosis at San Francisco Zoo 2004 (see supporting evidence and relevance here and here)
- There are missing tissue cultures for deceased African elephants
- There is missing trunk wash data for several elephants including Africans
- Evidence indicates that the local Calaveras county health department had NO IDEA there was a TB+ elephant at PAWS
Some of our presentations and other research