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From the Heart of the Matter – People who care about the Truth for the Toronto Zoo elephants

The letter below was written by a keeper, I don’t know which one nor did I ask, we pulled it off a social media group. In the early days of that fateful decision by Toronto City council back in October of 2011 staff and caregivers at the Toronto Zoo were shocked and  angry, they felt betrayed. It was understandable given the extremist dogma that had led to that decision to override and ignore zoo staff, vets and experts in favour of an anti zoo ideology which has led us to now, 2 years later still fighting for justice for Iringa, Toka and Thika who were and still are being used as poster children for the anti zoo movement.

Some staff, a handful took to social media to vent their anger. They are after all human beings who know and love these elephants better than council, better than Zoocheck and certainly better than PAWS and their army of zealots who cannot set aside their anti zoo dogma to honestly review the actual factors which will affect the health and welfare of these elephants. In those few days a handful of posts vilified PAWS, Zoocheck and Council for their reckless and self serving decisions and motives. They cried foul and they were wholly justified given the evidence which eventually came out via Freedom of Information which proved their concerns about tuberculosis at PAWS were not unfounded . But not so for Zoocheck and PAWS, in the coming months FOIA would evidence the endless complaints sent by Zoocheck’s Julie Woodyer to the Zoo’s CEO John Tracogna, the zoo board chair Joe Torzsok and to councillors and the city manager. It is no wonder she was unable to put together the air transport plan they had promised as she was clearly too busy complaining about staff to do so. The staff was eventually stalked on social media, daily by the anti coalition. They took screen caps of anything they could in order to aide Zoocheck in their media strategy to malign and disparage the staff at our zoo to pit public opinion against them or to simply attempt to undermine their passionate opposition. It was that obsession with attacking staff which appears to have caused Bob Barker to fear they would not cooperate with the transport and as indicated in FOIA he wanted the city to front the transport costs to be reimbursed later. We still question whether or not this is why the less costly road transport has been chosen over air. Perhaps if Zoocheck has just focused on the task at hand, managing the transport as they were tasked to do Mr. Barker would not have been manipulated into thinking this way based on some middle school mentality bullying campaign. It is surprising these attacks and complaints have not been found scrawled in black marker on the bathroom stalls of city hall.

Yes it was a strategy, at times plotted out  with actual city councillors and Zoocheck working together as a team. At the November 2012 Executive committee meeting Zoocheck’s Julie Woodyer’s entire deputation strategy was to remind the councillors that 12 months prior three people made 5 or 6 negative comments and that those comments indicated some kind of rebellious insubordination which indicated further yet some nefarious selfish motive to try and keep our elephants in Toronto. Despite knowing full well that the opposition to this transfer was being led by citizens the strategy to malign staff continued as did the many disparaging social media comments about the zoo and staff from PAWS supporters (being FB “liked” by PAWS on their FB group). In one case staff were called bastards who would rot in hell. Yes Rotting in hell is a particular favourite curse of animal liberationists, as if God has chosen them and their self appointed moral superiority but will judge us  for caring about these elephants and subsequently banish us to hell. You would think that Ms. Woodyer would have attempted some semblance of professionalism, perhaps not do exactly to staff what she was accusing them of – but as we have seen hypocrisy is simply not a word this PAWS coalition seems to understand. In another incident some of these zoo hating activists went so far as to create false facebook profiles, they added unsuspecting members of the Zoos Matter Facebook group to their friends lists and built literally a fake profile to look like a zoo supporter. We had taken the group private in late November 2012 until February 2013. These individuals were granted membership, admittedly my mistake and immediately took screen caps of anything staff were saying, IN PRIVATE and sent them to councillors in the form of a letter from a “citizen” claiming to be a zoo patron who was “offended” and staff were reprimanded. Councillors were not reprimanded for not vetting or sourcing the validity of their source and the citizen in question had their name protected in Freedom of Information documents. City officials did not care to find out if this was the set up we knew it was. Nor was the City Manager concerned about the constant attacks on staff by Councillor’s in the media.

A complaint sent with evidence about the privacy of the group went unanswered for weeks, the final reply came from the zoo management and it was basically a diatribe outlining how the City of Toronto has a monopoly on the definition of what privacy is on the internet. They didn’t care that councillors were colluding with anti zoo activists to stalk and harass city staff, apparently  that is ok even though it says quite clearly in the councillor code of conduct this is not allowed. Just get rid of these damn elephants at any cost it seems is the rallying cry at City Hall, we need to save money , we need to pay for Pandas! We hate zoos!”

You can imagine our frustration at this complete lack of fairness and rational Truth for Toronto Zoo elephantsreason. Imagine sitting there reading a news article with City Councillors or Zoocheck spouting off statements while at the same time you have right in front of you Freedom of Information documents which nullify their statements, prove they are not telling the truth or twisting truth in their favour. To have that knowledge and be ignored by the mainstream media which doesn’t seem to have the energy or interest in calling these people out on what were blatant lies; misrepresentation of the facts to the people of this city was infuriating however we carried on. Our passion for this truth knows no bounds and we will not be suppressed by the endless postings of the same ignorant and hateful catchphrases again and again from the Anti-Zoo handbook of We are better than you.

While the city is reeling in outrage from $75,000 spent on ridiculous chairs for city council or obsessing over the Mayor’s staffers emails we have evidence of a serious political abuse of power and the only reason you don’t know about it is because the media refuses to publish it, not because the documents are not real or not true. That can be easily verified. We have sent dozens of letters to the editor nothing gets published but anything which supports the PAWS move does? From Pat Derby herself to wealthy PAWS supporters here in Toronto to American citizens. The whole truth and nothing but the truth has been withheld from this city with social media policies and gag orders which threaten staff with job losses and wilful blindness by the media who have barely, save for once or twice showcased the opposition side of this issue.

Letter from the heart, a keepers story

I woke up this morning, a slight pain in my lower back, both my knees aching, my wrists sore, all there to remind me of what I have chosen to devote my life to doing… and that is ensuring that the elephants I work with are given the highest quality of life that I am capable of providing them with. I go into work everyday and look at the exhausted faces of my friends and co-workers knowing that they had the same sleepless night as I did… again, to utilize every minute of the day (willingly or not) to try and think of something that we can do to ensure that a terrible mistake is not made. One that we are all terrified could put these three amazing animals, Toka, Thika and Iringa in harms way.

But we do this with pride, despite the fact that online there are those who can’t wait to take their next shot at us and explain to the public their newest conspiracy theory on why the Toronto Zoo elephant keepers are fighting the fight we are. Some of these people KNOW that they are lying when they post these statements, and others have just been caught up in these lies. In this fight we are completely outgunned. They have money, connections, and friends in high places. All we have is our devotion to these animals and the truth.

There are two reasons we continue to fight. The first is an admittedly sometimes wavering but never undying belief that the truth and facts will win out over the lies of select government officials, “sanctuary” (a term I use loosely, “sanatorium” would be far more accurate) owners who are manipulating this situation as best they can to ensure their next $880,000 donation is right around the corner, and the animal rights activists that for some reason can’t see that the keepers are not the ones who stand to gain by spreading falsehoods.

These people accuse us of sabotage, abuse and only being in this to protect our jobs. I can assure you that we have never done anything to hurt these elephants or sabotage their training. I can also assure you that we do this despite threats of disciplinary recourse rather than promises of job security and I would gladly give up my job and find a new career to if it would ensure that these elephants get to spend the remainder of their lives in the best place possible, one chosen by the experts that know them and their needs best. The second reason is the elephants. While most people are still in bed we keepers are with the elephants giving them their breakfast. When people are settling in for the evening we are with the elephants; while people are enjoying their weekends and holidays we are with the elephants. When you watch your family opening their gifts on Christmas morning we are with the elephants doing everything in our power to ensure that all their physical and emotional needs are being met as best we can. I spend more time with these three elephants than I do with my own family because in many ways these animals are my family. That is my motivation.

They are amazing animals that I have been fortunate enough to work with. Iringa is incredibly smart, and has an unwavering faith in us. That faith is a testament to this elephant program that I have been fortunate enough to be a part of. Toka’s enthusiasm is enough to snap any person out of a bad mood; she is eager to please and an amazing elephant to work with. Thika… well, Thika is a brat… and is the favourite of many keepers because of this.

I am not going to get into all of the reasons that we feel there is a better option than PAWS because these reasons have been made available online for anyone who wants to look, but I will state one -it is hard to place any faith in an organization that openly lies about the elephants it houses. Only after vigilant people found proof that PAWS was treating elephants for Tuberculosis did PAWS go public about the issue stating that they had two elephants that had tested positive for the deadly airborne disease. They continued to say however (and I am admittedly paraphrasing) that just because their elephants tested positive and they are treating them for TB doesn’t mean they have TB and that things are safe. This argument would not hold up in any courtroom. They then insulted zoo officials for trying to find this information (that they admit same article to hiding) by accusing them of being on a “witch hunt.” They also tried to invalidate the test. They claimed it couldn’t be trusted and the only real way to know was with a trunk wash, despite the fact that they had flown out to the Toronto Zoo a month earlier insisting that our elephants get the very same blood test they now claim is useless. They insisted upon this because of the fact that our elephants had ONLY been tested by a trunk wash which could not be trusted. These contradictions do not inspire confidence. If you say the test means nothing why do it in the first place?

If we keepers were shown the medical records from PAWS perhaps we could sleep a little easier, but they refuse, so rather than sleeping easier we are more restless, increasingly concerned about what else they could possibly need to hide if they have already openly stated that their elephants have tested positive for Tuberculosis.

Select Toronto City councillors are planning another visit to PAWS to evaluate the facility, again, without any of the Toronto Zoo keeping staff or veterinarians. Perhaps on the way they can also do the safety check for the plane they will fly in without the help of any engineers or airport staff because they are equally unqualified to perform that task, and about as unlikely to spot any errors. Some things call for a trained and educated eye.

In many ways I am broken from this experience, but I owe it to these elephants to continue this fight. People are welcome to continue to lie about my coworkers and I, we’ve gotten used to it. We live in a society where those with the loudest voices are not always those with the right answers. I ask anyone who reads about this issue to keep that in mind. Look at the facts, they speak for themselves. Their story does not add up. I write this for the elephants. People can sit at their computers and post their opinions all they like, but I deeply care about these animals and the ultimate proof is that I go in everyday and do everything I can to do right by them. To me they are not names and pictures on a computer screen, “city property”, or my ticket to another donation from a retired celebrity. They are living, breathing creatures that are relying on my coworkers and I to ensure they are safe and taken care of. That is my job and that is what I am doing now. Please prove to me that common sense and logic will win out in this battle. Help us do what is right for Toka, Thika and Iringa.

On an end note, I would like to sincerely thank the many people (locally and internationally) whose unwavering dedication to ensuring that the elephants have a happy and healthy future has been nothing short of inspirational. You have never given up and neither will we.

Here is another letter which was written by a zoo supporter:

Last night I had the misfortune of watching Toronto City Council betray three of their most admired citizens. For over three decades Toronto has been home to Toka, Iringa and Thika. Anyone who would take the time to read this probably doesn’t need me to explain that these three amazing elephants have once again had their future health and safety put on the backburner to accommodate the pride and politics of the vast majority of our elected officials.

Fool me once, shame on you. Council made a rash decision a year ago that probably seemed like the right thing to do. Very little information was available to them at the time, I can empathize and see how the decision they made then could have seemed logical if they took it at face value and refused to look deeper into some of the issues at hand. Fool me twice… Last night was inexcusable. We watched helplessly as council voted to send the elephants to a colder, less natural, distant facility that has serious infectious disease problems where these elephants will likely never be able to experience the multi-generation herd dynamics that they require for their psychological well being… and for what? Political favours on a more important issue? To save face and not have to admit they were wrong a year ago? Because they didn’t want to admit that the professionals who were hired by the city and had dedicated decades of their lives to caring for these animals knew more than council does about elephant care?

Even though keeping the elephants at the Toronto Zoo was never even a possibility it didn’t stop officials from muddying the waters by attacking their own city employees for no apparent reason. Surely the hypocrisy couldn’t have been lost on these councillors as they criticized the Toronto Zoo for having small enclosures where the animals are kept for long periods of time in the winter, for saying that they have no place in such a cold climate, for arguing that the ‘experts’ say PAWS is good. These very criticisms came from councillors who are in fact members of the zoo board who decided not to expand and improve the very facilities they pointlessly criticized. They were well aware that the facility they chose is in northern California and gets significant amounts of snow, unlike Florida. That the facility in California locks their elephants up in barns smaller than the facility at the Toronto zoo for 12 hours at a time because it is too cold for them outside and unlike here in Toronto has no enrichment program in place to keep the animals occupied during such periods of time. They must have realized that every expert present at that meeting said PAWS was dangerous and that it puts our elephants at risk, in fact the only people endorsing it were represented by year old correspondence that dated back to before any of the concerns about infectious disease were raised at PAWS. Most if not all of these experts were also fortunate enough to receive regular sizable donations from PAWS. No one on council seemed to find this suspicious.

The National Elephant Centre was criticized because council theorized that TB could at some point be an issue, despite the fact that the professionals at the meeting not only said this would not be the case but went into detail as to how such things would be avoided. How do you rule out a facility because your gut tells you that (contrary to logic) they will have to deal with a TB infection at some point in the distant future, and then turn around and vote to send them to a further away, colder, smaller facility that is undergoing an TB epidemic.

It has been said in the scientific community that every person will eventually get cancer if they don’t die of something else first. If I were to apply council’s logic then I might as well take up smoking today.

Council was not done with that however. They then went on to vote down a simple amendment that asked that if the elephants go by plane they are sent in crates that they fit in and go in a plane that is pressurized and temperature controlled, essentially so they can have enough oxygen to survive such an arduous and unnecessary journey. How it is legal to vote for something which in my opinion amounts to animal abuse is beyond me.

The citizens of Toronto should be ashamed of this. The politicians did what bad politicians do. They lied, embellished, misconstrued, and spun the evidence and all of this came at the expense of the elephants.

All hope is not lost though. In their blatant disregard of scientific evidence and facts they also chose to ignore several very important issues. The elephants still don’t fit in their crates, and the paperwork isn’t in place to get them over the border. No amount of ignorance will make those issues go away. One councillor was put on the spot was asked why PAWS hadn’t fulfilled these very basic requirements that they were responsible for? She simply pleaded that it didn’t make any sense because PAWS wanted the elephants. Normal people when confronted with incontrovertible evidence that proves their ideas false will generally (either begrudgingly or not) correct themselves. However we citizens of Toronto are fortunate enough to have councillors not encumbered with such shortcoming as being convinced by facts, but rather they take the more innocent child-like approach of sticking their fingers in their ears and refusing to listen. It would be humorous if it didn’t result in the needless potential abuse of innocent animals.

These councillors still answer to us, the people of Toronto. Please help me and the countless others who fight to right the wrongs done on ‘our behalf’ by our elected officials. I remain confident that the scientific evidence speaks for itself and while the people who run the city may put aside the welfare of these animals for their own means or ignorance, the citizens of Toronto, who run them, will not sit idly by as such atrocities are committed.

By: Jim Francis

Censor the infidels!

Burn the InfidelsWhat is the meaning of this latest blog post, why? Because it seems the latest strategy by PAWS supporters, be they Councillors or the anti zoo organizations they collude with, or one of their indoctrinated army members is to attempt to put a gag order on Toronto Citizens, to suppress freedom of speech. It is not enough to censor the zoo’s opposition to this transfer they want to shut down the effectiveness of this blog and our challenge to stop what we believe to be an inhumane transfer and even more inhumane 4200km road transport after they reneged on the air transport which was promised for two years. We support a transfer, but not to a facility with proven disease prevention failures or a facility which would not be honest about those failures in an effort to acquire these elephants at any cost, to use them as their anti zoo poster children despite the risks. This is what we hear day in and day out from those who oppose our point of view. Every time they comment they evidence that they are willing to put their anti zoo ideology first over the factors which should be dictating the terms of this relocation. Even if they have to go to PAWS and we cannot stop this BOB BARKER and CITY COUNCIL and ZOOCHECK PROMISED AIR TRANSPORT! They very publicly denounced the road trip to the National Elephant Center in Florida which has 3xs the space and is half the distance to travel as INHUMANE. Again it seems the definition of the word hypocrisy is omitted from their handbooks.HANDBOOK

What we see from those who oppose our point of view  is always the same thing “I believe zoos are inhumane so I am right and you are wrong” “ I am against zoos so these elephants should not go to another Zoo” “Im against elephants in zoos and I want to use your elephants to make this statement”  “You are bad people you should be ashamed” and of course the favourite “You will rot in hell you…” with some kind of derogatory expletive thrown in at the end. Our elephants are not your victory or your ticket to self validation. If you need to risk our elephant’s lives to validate your belief systems or self esteem then you need to get some therapy and some medication or at the very least a self help book. It is because of this hypocritical selfishness that we will not longer allow this extremism to post its endless and practised diatribe on this blog. Go write your own blog, go post your robotic opposition where it is welcome. This is for the people who don’t believe in exploiting these elephants for a cause, for those who value truth and facts and for those who care about these elephants as individuals who deserve two things; one is not to be deliberately exposed to tuberculosis risks and the other is not to be inhumanely transported 4200km cross country chained in crate, on a truck for what could exceed 80hrs or more when there is a viable 225 acre alternative which is half the distance to transport. Those are the two factors which should be considered first and foremost, not because you don’t believe in the value of zoos. Your selfish self serving ideology has no place in this decision.

As the blog heads into its 4th week it nears a 7000 view marker. We were surprised ourselves at this number. In a recent email from city hall to one of our supporters it is implied that we may need to register as a lobbyist with the city and that we appear to be managed by CUPE since we posted a press release from CUPE which we found posted publicly on the internet and social media. We didn’t realize that posting a public press release indicated some kind of collusion or “management” by a third party. If we are being managed by CUPE than they owe us a lot of money for the 1000s of hours of personal time invested in this and hundreds upon hundreds of dollars spent out of our bank accounts for Freedom of Information request costs, photocopying, posters, banners, flyers, and days off work to depute at council and zoo board meetings. This is funny because in order to be a lobbyist one would have to have actual reciprocated email correspondence from City Hall, phones calls returned or requests for meetings granted by councillors. To date after two years sending these emails and making these requests and supplying research we have only had two email replies. Id say council rejected our attempts to be lobbyists on this issue and that the City has no power to suppress our freedom of speech or democratic rights and freedoms based on a complaint designed to undermine the truth. They may have the power to do this to zoo in order to keep the truth at bay but not the power to  censor citizens, we will not be socially engineered by our so called Municipal leaders.

Zoocheck Canada is exempt from the lobbyist codes of conduct and rules as they are a non profit, we don’t profit either. They have lobbied and been allowed to act as agents on behalf of PAWS at the same time which we believe to be a conflict of interest. We lobby, but we don’t bother much with the tunnel vision that is City Hall, we have gone well over their heads on this one and will continue to do so. As for attempting to harass us and shut down our civil rights and liberties we say shame on you City Hall, we will not be suppressed by your extremist dogma. It is not indicative of collusion simply because the union shares the same opinions as we do on this matter and making such an allegation in our opinion is a serious issue – is it really so hard to believe that there are citizens who oppose this and who have not been indoctrinated by the animal rights groups which support the move?

I’ve got news for you, not only is this possible but it is possible for thousands of people both in the city of Toronto and from around the world. Deliberate exposure to disease is wrong, risking an ageing animal’s life with an extreme and desperate transport plan is wrong. It is wrong to risk these elephants live because you are against the alternative from an ideological point of view. If you cannot see that is serving the self first far be it from me to try and continue to point out this very obvious flaws in your ability to be a rational thinker with integrity and courage to challenge your beliefs in the name of doing the right thing.

Despite all of the obstacles we have faced here we are, on the cusp of successfully stopping this inhumane road transport. Is it possible that truth does actually eventually override dogma? And justice for Iringa, Toka and Thika will be achieved? All we want is for these girls to head off to a new warm sunny home safer from disease, transported humanely, to live with other elephants of all ages and enjoy their retirement. It is the least we can do for these beautiful elephants who have made Toronto their home all these years.

Iringa, Toka and Thika we will not give up our fight for you!

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