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Toronto Zoo Elephants – A diplomatic sacrifice in the name of Trade Deals



As the Toronto Zoo braced for the arrival of two pandas from Chengdun, China I could only stop and wonder; If the three Toronto zoo elephants were iconic pop culture images of conservation as pandas have become around the world would more people care about how they were sacrificed to aid the Prime Minister in a trade deal with China?

In fact to aid a multiple of people’s careers and self interest causes?

They are now slated for an inhumane 4200km road transport and transfer to the PAWS sanctuary in California which has proven tuberculosis risks and a now documented TB outbreak. All facts, science and expert industry opposition to this transfer is ignored. But alas when it comes to pandas and elephants the issues are not just black and white.


Councillor Cho gets an award from anti-zoo organization Zoocheck Canada

We have talked alot about Toronto Councillors Berardinetti and DeBaeremaker and their role in this fiasco. We mention Councillor Cho but we don’t often discuss his motive behind getting rid of our elephants. Oh he plays up the animal welfare storyline as if he was going for an Oscar but let’s look at the facts and the timeline and learn a little bit about Councillor Cho.

A little bit about Councillor Cho you might want to read here

Some excerpts:

“On August 13, 2004, the Toronto Star reported that Cho spent nearly all of his allotted councillor expense fund, one of the highest on city council. While there was some speculation that some of this money was diverted to Cho’s failed bid to run in the federal election campaign,”

“Cho was a New Democratic Party candidate for election to the Canadian House of Commons in the 1988 federal election and was initially identified as a New Democrat when he joined Metro Council, however, he soon became an ally and supporter of thenMetropolitan Toronto Chairman Alan Tonks and dropped his NDP affiliation. He subsequently took out membership in the Liberal Party though, like most non-NDP municipal politicians in Ontario he did not run on a party label in municipal elections.”

“He ran in the 2004 federal election as an independent candidate in Scarborough—Rouge River. Cho called himself an “independent Liberal”, and used the Liberal Party of Canada‘s red-and-white colours for his campaign materials. He was accused of trying to mislead voters by the official Liberal candidate, Derek Lee. Lee, who has been the MP since 1988 said that Cho caused some controversy by claiming to have been shut out of the candidate nomination process.”

“In 2005, Cho expressed interest in being the Ontario Liberal Party‘s candidate in the Scarborough—Rouge River provincial by-electionwhich was made necessary by the appointment of incumbent Liberal MPP Alvin Curling to a diplomatic position. However, the Liberal riding association used a clause of its constitution to declare another city councillor, Bas Balkissoon, as its candidate without a contested nomination process.”

“In 2012, Cho was named as the Progressive Conservative candidate for the provincial riding of Scarborough-Rouge River. This was done in anticipation of a spring 2013 election”

Whew that is a lot of political party ping pong for one man, thank god for pandas and elephants because he finally has his opportunity!

Timeline; Some relevant events.

March 5,2010


December 12, 2010


In 2010 Councillor Cho and Councillor Mammoliti were lobbying the zoo and the city to begin negotiations to acquire two pandas from China. The cost would be exorbitant but they were committed to find a way. By 2011 they were backed by the newly elected Zoo Board Chair Joe Torzsok.

Coincidentally at the same time Prime Minister Stephen Harper was working on new and massive trade deals with China. Further coincidentally of the two zoos which are hosting the pandas, Toronto for the first five years and Calgary for the next five, both phased out their elephant exhibits. Calgary had a very successful elephant program; it is a curiosity as to why they did this but it seems pandas rule supreme in Alberta and Ontario.

Here is a little timeline of this panda deal from news articles of relevant events.

Jan 12, 2011


March 2, 2011



October 10, 2011


February 11, 2012


December 18, 2012


Councillor Cho becomes one of the lead negotiators for the pandas. In early 2012 the deal is struck. But remember way back in May of 2011? Just 2 months before the decision to phase out our elephants the newly elected Zoo Board chair Torzsok declares his commitment to pandas, barely 6 months earlier John Tracogna was hired as the new CEO of the Zoo. Shortly after Tracogna was hired a study of the zoo’s elephant program was commissioned which ultimately was the catalyst for the decision to phase out the exhibit and move the elephants.

The year Tracogna was hired, late 2010  was at the same time talks of pandas had begun as the Prime Minister negotiated with China on trade deals. It seems rather coincidental that at a time when money is needed desperately to acquire the rent a pandas, and the Prime Minister is trying to appease a giant trade deal with China that suddenly one of the most expensive exhibits to maintain at our zoo is shut down. Were the elephants just a diplomatic sacrifice?


Maybe the answers to these questions about why our elephants were so quickly and recklessly disposed of  is actually blatantly black and white, so in your face that the media is missing it altogether. In the form of two rent-a-pandas from China? In 2009 The Toronto Zoo Board was actually considering upgrading their elephant habitat and facilities. By May of 2011 they had decided to shut down the exhibit and by the Fall of 2011 Toronto City Council overrode the zoo’s professional authority and seized the elephants as assets of the city.

So let’s look at how pandas replaced our elephants. Prime Minister Harper wanted a showy and profitable trade deal with China. That pretty much started in 2009/2010. The new CEO is hired in fall 2010, new zoo board chair elected in the spring of 2011 and the elephant exhibit is phased out on May 11, 2011. China, in exchange for this sweet deal “gave” Canada a couple of pandas. But they are not free, we are paying for them and we also paid for the 10+ million dollars to create an exhibit and for rental fees for their five year tenure here in Toronto.

10 million? More than enough to kick start a new elephant exhibit and more than enough to at least provide some funding to fly the elephants humanely to any facility. But I imagine when your Prime Minister tells you he wants pandas and you have to choose elephants or pandas you choose in favour of your Prime Minister. Well I would not have made this decision but then again I don’t have designs on a career in politics either.

Of course if you are lobbying for self serving political opportunity and hobnobbing with the considered upper crust of Canadian politics you do whatever you can to make the Prime Minister happy. This truly was panda vs elephant and our elephants didn’t stand a chance. Coincidentally Councillor Raymond Cho, who travelled to China on behalf of the zoo and according to his twitter is apparently Ms. Laureen Harpers new BFF was recently given the Provincial Conservative candidate nomination in his riding despite years of NDP/Liberal support. What a nice reward for all his hard work on the panda deal.

Who else will benefit politically from all of this panda wheeling and dealing? Certainly not the Toronto Zoo Elephants.

Seems the Zoo Board chair Joe Torzsock was on board from the moment he became zoo board chair.

Seems the zoos CEO John Tracogna was on board the moment he was hired.

Seems Councillor Cho had his political sights set much higher than Toronto City Council.

It is particularly ironic to hail the pandas as an opportunity to teach people about conservation as elephants, the ivory trade and wild elephant population decimation for Asian markets are in fact daily news worldwide save for Canada. While pandas are reproduced assembly line style in China elephants are being slaughtered en masse (40,000 last year alone) for their ivory in the tens of thousands and at the recent CITES convention China essentially refused to make efforts to curb its country’s lust for ivory and rhino horn and any other number of threatened and endangered species which China enjoys eating, drinking and decorating themselves with.

Yes China! We are putting the words conservation and China in the same sentence and for anyone who knows anything about China and its abuse of animals this is completely ludicrous. They use pandas to seal trade deals all over the world http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-24161385.

China, the country where this is the latest fashion trend

Yes you are looking at the picture correctly, they place small turtles in sealed bags and wear them as a necklaces or keychains. They slowly suffocate, sadly the turtles not the idiots wearing them.


They like bear bile



  And Pangolins in soup

 And sell dog and cat fur trim for western fashion statements


feeding decorative fashion markets around the world cats and dogs are ruthlessly slaughtered and sometimes inhumanely skinned alive

Rhino horn is popular:

slaughtered rhino

China and other asian countries use rhino horn as medicine and “natural” Viagra


And tiger fetus wine


Yes they like to drink wine which has been fermented with the fetus of endangered species

And Shark fin soup


Abalone poaching is destroying great white shark habitats

And Lets not forget tiger farms and their lust for Ivory

China farms tigers like cattle for their medicinal markets

elephant slaughtered

to feed ivory markets in Asia Ivory poaching also funds weapons black market

The list could go on and on and on.

This is merely the tip of the iceberg, literally thousands of species of flora and fauna are being devoured by an insatiable nation bent of consuming every last resource and and endangered species on this planet. They are causing the extinctions! They are kind of like the aliens in the movie Independence Day; you know when the captured alien telepathically tells the President  that they travel from planet to planet devouring the resources and then move on.

China has invaded Africa, pumping money into a continent desperate for investment. In exchange for this money, the money we pump into China in the name of cheap products and our own apathy China reaps the rewards of Africa’s natural resources. And not coincidentally there has been an increase in rhino and elephant poaching in the last 5 years, a dramatic increase which in fact threatens these species very survival and is pushing them closer an closer to extinction.

And now they are coming to Canada! Hooray! We are celebrating conservation with a nation which is literally directly responsible for the devastation and extinction of thousands of plant and animal species. But they “save” pandas and pandas are cute and fuzzy and make for great photo opportunities and excellent trade deals.

We deserve answers. We deserve to know who made all these deals which have ended in our elephants being forcibly and deliberately exposed to a dangerous disease deadly to elephants. Which has them being inhumanely transported 4200km on a truck?


The Prime Minister? His wife? Toronto City councillors? The Zoo CEO? Or maybe even citizen zoo board members looking to take that leap into the political realm?

Who will take responsibility when they die?

In the name of greed, money and political power.

We are committed to finding those answers in the name of democratic rights and freedoms, in the name of every single wild species being decimated by China’s ignorance and greed and in the name of three elephants, Thika Toka and Iringa. We submitted Freedom of Information requests to City Council, asking for FOIA from Councillor Cho, he refused to comply. We would have to submit a $25 appeal fee to force the Councillor to do his job. He wants to run for Provincial government? Well with all his refusals and secrecy he will fit right in. Just what exactly is he hiding anyway?

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