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Of course this will be a controversy, whose fault was it?
Lets review what we know shall we.
Zoocheck and PAWS were responsible for organizing the move. It would be on their orders when the elephants would be crated. This happened at about 8am despite the fact that Zoocheck and Active Environments( the transport company) knew there was to be a CFIA inspection at 8:30am. What was the rush Zoocheck? A responsible transporter would wait until the inspection was complete before crating the animals.Knowing they had been given several compliances by CFIA which needed to be met before being allowed to transport you would think common sense would dictate and they would wait for the CFIA officials to arrive. The zoo staff were to train the elephants to go into their crates and to load them when ordered to, the orders would come from those legally contracted to handle the move, Zoocheck and Active Environments.
The trucks transporting the elephants did not arrive on site at the elephant house until the afternoon. We know because we were there.
Why load the elephants at 8am if the trucks were not even on site yet?
As far as we know there was an issue with CFIA which is a Federal Government Agency, their inspection was scheduled. It was not the zoo staff or vets which caused the delays. Zoocheck had already brought in outside vets to override the Toronto vets to sign off on health certificates for transport. The Toronto Zoo vets were not comfortable with the health of an elephant on such a long transport. We know Zoocheck has claimed it would take just 50hrs with stops but we also know now that at this time, 7:45pm on October 20th, 2013 the elephants have been in their crates for just over 80hrs with over 67hrs of road time.
The zoo did not cause a delay, they would not risk more time in the crates for these elephants they are the ones who felt road transport over 4200km was inhumane remember? People are so quick to blame the zoo based on their personal anti zoo beliefs. Perhaps people thought they could leave before CFIA arrived? I mean if you are going to have such nefarious thoughts then at least be fair and consider motive for both parties involved. PAWS had their annual fundraising event, The Grape Stomp on Saturday October 19, 2013. If they had left at 9am from the zoo there would have been a grande entrance of the three Toronto girls right in the middle of the event.
The CBC’s 5th Estate claims they will prove it was the zoo’s fault. Well why dont we first find out what the delay actually was about before hurling accusations. Based on the biased anti zoo documentary they just did and the fact that this program has an exclusive legal contract with PAWS to film the move how much freedom or even desire do you think they have to portray this move and the events surrounding it impartially?
We have evidence of our own. And once we know our elephants are safely off the crates we will put together some information of our which shows how Zoocheck and Active Environments bungled this whole transport and made mistakes which added hours of extra time on to this move. Even without the 10hrs delay the elephants would have been in the crates for 70hrs with 57hrs of road time and counting because they still have not arrived. Perhaps if Zoocheck had hired a transportation company which had actually transported animals before it would have taken less time? Or maybe if they had actually gone to the right port of entry into the USA, the one where animals being transported are inspected? That might have saved some time. Did you really think it took 7hrs to get from Toronto to Sarnia? With a full police escort? Ah yes but as always there is so much more to this than meets the eye.
All in due time my friends, all in due time.
Time for Action! Please read the quick review below. More detailed explanations and discussion can be found in other blog posts.
As we prepare for our elephants to leave it is important for the people of Toronto to know a few things which have thus far been missing from any media reports. The media are clearly hesitant to use freedom of information documents which they themselves did not acquire. The zoo veterinary staff and others at the zoo were censored by City Council and prevented from sharing officially with the media why they had concerns about tuberculosis at PAWS. You have only been given the Pro PAWS side of the story. This is how council wanted it.
As citizens and rightful owners of the Toronto Zoo elephants we had a right to know what the vets concerns were and why. Council ensured that the legal rights of PAWS were catered to while ours were denied. We still own these elephants. PAWS claimed legal obligations to previous owners of the deceased elephants in question to aid in the censorship of this information.
Our vets reviewed the necropsy reports of the 2 most recently deceased African elephants at PAWS, Ruby and 71. They found anomalies on both reports. In particular Ruby had a bronchial mass on one of her lungs. As tuberculosis would be found predominantly on the lungs at time of death the vets asked PAWS for tissue culture reports on these two elephants. PAWS and Zoocheck claimed they had given the zoo everything and had nothing more and at this time those reports are still outstanding. At that point there were some public legal threats from the PAWS/Zoocheck team. We conducted an extensive freedom of information search of all the USA agencies which would have these tissue cultures be they negative or positive for disease, USDA, California Fish and wildlife and California State Health Department. There was nothing. To the best of our knowledge these cultures were never done. As a result of council catering to PAWS needs only and ignoring the democratic rights of the people of this city you were never given an opportunity to review the vets findings. The findings which convinced them along with stacks of documented evidence that there is a risk for tuberculosis at PAWS. You were disallowed from knowing the truth and without an official statement or release of information from the zoo the media could not report on this. We had the facts. We did a reverse FOI to the University of Calgary. We were investigating the independent bio security report that Zoocheck commissioned and which council adopted over the due diligence of the Toronto Zoo. In that foi zoo vets explained to the individual who wrote the report. a Dr. Susan Cork (it was paid advocacy) about their necropsy findings for the African elephants. Without those tissue cultures we cannot be certain of the disease status of that herd. The diagnostics which PAWS claims clears that herd of disease failed to diagnose active TB in their Asian herd; tuberculosis which killed one elephant and infected two others one of which is now TB+. The African elephant with the bronchial mass at time of death had a high risk history of exposure to this disease having lived with an Asian elephant previously at the LA Zoo which had lived with two other Asians, both of which died from TB. She was treated as a precautionary measure at the LA Zoo. Then she went on to live at PAWS in a shared barn where both Asians and elephants lived together for over five years before a second barn was built in 2009. She died March 2011.
The Dr. Cork Bio Security report which was commissioned by Zoocheck Canada failed to include very important information. There were multiple missing trunk wash results in particular for the deceased African elephant Ruby but more importantly it failed to indicate that there had been human transmission of the disease at the sanctuary. Yes, someone got it and converted to the active form of the disease in the spring of 2012. When we did a FOI to access the genotyping for active cases of TB in Calaveras county (PAWS county) we received the two results. Both had the same genotype. The genotype actually matched another elephant other than the documented TB strains at PAWS. the elephant was Calle who had never lived at PAWS. It was clear and evident through logical deduction that one of the cases of human tuberculosis in the county was the case at PAWS evidenced in our FOI of emal correspondence between th PAWS vet and California State health. Calle (deceased TB+) did live with two Asian elephants, one died from TB and the other was the Asian Gita which went on to live with Ruby at the LA Zoo and then Ruby went on to live at PAWs and when she died PAWS did not have tissue cultures done on a bronchial mass found on her lung at time of necropsy. Are you getting it yet?
Consider these factors:
Three months before the zoo announces it is phasing out the elephant exhibit the source Asian elephant in PAWS outbreak dies. They indicate in foi that they had no idea she was even TB+ until after she dies and as a result wore no protective gear.
Three months after this death the African Ruby dies and it appears PAWS chooses not to have important tissue cultures done on a bronchial mass found on her lung
They knew full well they would be lobbying for the Toronto Zoo elephants at this time in fact their lobby began around 2009. Instead of having tissue cultures done to ensure the African herd is 100% clear of disease they choose not to? Why?
By summer of 2011 PAWS knows that two other Asians have been exposed and they show reactions on an early detector test called the STATPAK.
In the summer of 2011 a visiting sanctuary owner from Thailand notes in his blog that he witnessed masks and gloves being used in the barn for an Asian bull named Sabu indicating full quarantine. Sabu dies in January of 2013. PAWS and Zoocheck claim he died from euthanasia due to arthritis. Despite USDA documents which say he was TB+ at time of death they still make this claim.
In the Fall of 2011 Toronto Council seizes control of our elephants and make claims that there is no TB at PAWS
Councillors, PAWS and Zoocheck claim in the media that there is no TB at PAWS and that no elephant has ever died from TB at PAWS even though they know full well Rebecca died TB+ the previous January.
In the Fall of 2011 the director of the Detroit Zoo sends a letter of support for PAWS to the Zoo’s CEO, in it he indicates that there was on site transmission of TB at PAWS in 2011. This information is never made public. The zoo CEO knew about a tuberculosis outbreak and either refused to share this information with the public or was ordered not to by Councillors.
So at a time when animal rights activists and Councillors were attacking our zoo and maligning staff for opposing PAWS on the grounds of tuberculosis Council had evidence that the zoo staff concerns were not unfounded, that it was true.
In April of 2012 citizens accessed Freedom of Information Documents (FOI) proving here had been an outbreak of disease at the sanctuary and proving that all those involved with supporting PAWS had lied about it.
Our Freedom of Information evidence from Toronto City Hall indicates that Councillors DeBaeremaker and Berardinetti colluded with Zoocheck to malign and disparage the staff in the media. Zoocheck would spoon feed Councillors statements to make about the staff. They also were fed statements to malign the AZA when we lost our accreditation.
You have not been told the truth. The evidence which supports the Zoo vets concerns about tuberculosis has been purposefully censored by City Council in an effort to expedite the transfer of our elephants to what experts believe in an inappropriate facility which represents a risk to their health and welfare. As a citizen, zoo patron or zoo member you had a right to that information. Council chose the rights of PAWS over your rights! Because they knew you would support the scientific evidence and zoological expertise. They have the world convinced that this was nothing more than the AZA bullying a poor little sanctuary. Well that poor little sanctuary is aligned with an animal rights coalition which represents millions and millions of dollars. You were not told the truth and there is a risk of tuberculosis in the African herd at PAWS.
Rebecca and Sabu both had active TB 10 years before it recrudesced and they died. It took ten years for the disease to secretly eat away at their bodies. Latent TB is hard to diagnose and once an animal has it despite treatment they have it for life. It can reappear at any time. Another elephant which was documented in our research died at another facility 8 years after initial diagnosis and treatment. This disease has a 1-20 year incubation period. Why are we taking this risk with our elephants? Because you didn’t know the truth and if you had been told the truth you would have fought this transfer.
There is a high risk for tuberculosis exposure within the African herd at PAWS. And council chose to cater to their anti-zoo animal rights ideology over the true health and welfare of our elephants. They can no longer be trusted to make decisions about the health and welfare of animals at our zoo and Councillor DeBaeremaker as a zoo board member has betrayed us all. He must be removed from our board and the only way to make this happen is with your active support and you voice!
A few more important factors to note:
2009 IDA claim Toronto Zoo is one of the worst zoos for elephants in North America (IDA’s former director now works for PAWS)
2009 – PAWS also makes statements publicly about Toronto Zoo elephants
their campaign for our elephants had begun
John Tracogna is hired as new CEO of Toronto Zoo
His first order of business is to hire a consulting firm to assess the long term viability of the African elephant exhibit at the zoo. Multiple deaths had occurred at the zoo in recent years and facility upgrades were badly needed.
Comparatively 6 elephants died at PAWS sanctuary in 4 years.
PAWS ARK2000 – Rebecca a female Asian elephant dies
Lab reports sent after necropsy show she was TB+
FOI indicates that the sanctuary staff and vet team did not know she was TB+ until after she died
No protective gear was worn by staff
Three other Asian females are exposed
PAWS ARK2000 – Ruby a female African elephant dies
No cause of death is ever determined. Ruby had high risk history of exposure to TB at all her former facility homes including the LA Zoo where she had been treated as a precautionary measure due to exposure to a female Asian elephant whose two former herd mates had both died of tuberculosis. No tissue samples are sent to be cultured for disease. USDA TB Management Guideline strongly suggest that all deceased elephants have cultures done at time of death. Claiming to have the best disease protocols in the world why wouldn’t PAWS have these cultures done?
Toronto Zoo board decides to phase out its elephant exhibit and re-home their elephants. They lay out a series of criteria including no facilities which use elephant hooks or free contact and no facilities on the west coast due to the logistics for transport AND no facilities with previous or current issues with tuberculosis. The Tennessee Sanctuary is ruled out early on due to their past history with a TB outbreak in 2009. Council then chooses to maintain adversity to limited use of elephant hook at National Elephant Centre (used in calving to protect calves) but is willing to overlook disease and inhumane transport. They were willing to do anything to continue to cater to their anti zoo ideology.
By June of 2011 Two of the Asian female elephants exposed to Rebecca’s TB test positive on early TB detector test STATPAK. At the time this information had not been made public
July 2011 A visiting sanctuary owner Karl Cullen (now deceased) writes in his blog about his trip to PAWS. He indicates that the PAWS staff was wearing full protective gear, masks and gloves when working a bull Asian elephant named Sabu. This would indicate the presence of disease. Sabu tested positive and was treated for TB in 1999-2001. He came from Ringling Brothers Circus as a result of a legal settlement between PAWS and RLB.
August 2011 City councillors MB and Cho visit PAWS
Sanctuary councillors and Zoocheck Canada deny the presence of any TB or TB deaths at the sanctuary when zoo staff and citizens raise concerns about tuberculosis
October 2011 Toronto City council rules in a motion without notice that the elephants are city assets and seize control over decision making regarding their future home. Without any due diligence or official expert site visits they choose PAWS over the zoos choice the yet to be built but now completed National Elephant Centre. Council cites the limited use of elephant hooks for breeding and calving as their reasons for opposition against TNEC.
Fall 2011 Detroit zoo director sends letter of recommendation for PAWS to Zoo CEO and indicates in his letter that there had been on site transmission of tuberculosis at PAWS in 2011. CEO does not make this public
December 2011 Zoo staff visit the sanctuary, their site visit report is never made public FOI accessed the report in the summer of 2013. Report indicates multiple concerns about bio security protocols and zoo staff are only allowed to review 2 out of the 5 barns
Sabu the bull elephant at PAWS dies. PAWS claims he dies from severe arthritis, euthanasia due to severe arthritis actually.
February 2012 Zoo signs legal agreement with PAW sanctuary despite the zoo vets concerns over TB at PAWS.
FOI is made public includes necropsy reports and lab reports for Sabu and Rebecca confirming they died TB+. Sanctuary Councillors and Zoocheck claim they had “old” TB infections which were not contagious
More FOI is accessed which proves that there was on site transmission, Rebecca infected two other elephants. One of those is Annie with no previous history of exposure to TB except at PAWS. She converts to active TB June 2012.
The PAWS coalition claims African herd is safe but zoo vets demand to review health records of deceased African elephants. PAWS objects but finally relinquishes the medical documents but claim legal agreements with previous owners so that the findings cannot be made public.
FOI with the University of Calgary eventually accesses the Toronto zoo vets findings in those reports. One observation they found was that the deceased African elephants Ruby and 71 had no tissue cultures done upon necropsy. Ruby’s necropsy indicates she had a bronchial mass on her lung at time of death, 71 had…? The vets ask for the tissue cultures and PAWS claims they have no more medical documents to give. FOI requests done by citizens confirms that the tissue cultures do not exist and were never done.
Zoo vets consider the due diligence to be incomplete. The Executive Committee makes recommendation to send the vote back to council to determine if PAWS is the best facility for the elephants.
Zoocheck Canada hires Dr Susan Cork from the University of Calgary to do an independent infectious disease report on the PAWS sanctuary. FOI indicates she is financially compensated for her work. The report relies solely on the information provided to her by PAWS. Zoocheck claims to Dr Cork that the report is on behalf of Toronto City council, no record exists of any official request from any councillor or city of Toronto official for this report.
Councillor Berardinetti submits the report to Nov 25, 2012 council meeting one hr prior to discussions on the elephant transfer issue. Zoo staff is given less than 45 minutes to review the report. The report is misrepresented to council as entirely the work of Dr Susan Cork, eventual foi and a public statement from the University of Calgary indicate that in fact multiple pages inserted into the report were not the work of Dr Cork or anyone at the university of Calgary
Toronto Council adopts this report over the due diligence of the Toronto zoo despite evidence in the report of multiple missing trunk wash data results for both Asians and Africans at paws just prior to and during the time of their outbreak. Report fails to include the case of human transmission of the disease at PAWS, actually claims there was none.
All of the above statements are evidenced in our Freedom of information documents. As citizens of this city and zoo members we have no motive other than the health and welfare of our elephants. We have committed our time and our own money to fight this and to gather this information for the people of Toronto. We have no reasons to lie to you. This is the truth as we have documented it.
TAKE ACTION NOW!
Demand that the information that has been censored about tuberculosis concerns be made public. It is our right to know the truth, these are our elephants and this is our zoo!
Councillor Doug Ford supports this transfer and could care less about the risks to our elephant’s lives. He sees the zoo as gravy and supports allowing animal rights groups to dismantle our zoo. tell him how you feel about that.
The Zoo CEO and Zoo Board chair said nothing, did nothing to defend the zoo and its staff and they did not fight to have the truth about vets TB concerns made public. They in fact aided in withholding information from YOU. Tell them how you feel about that
Zoo Board email address. Your concerns will be made public record
These Councillors led the charge in favour of PAWS Sanctuary and the recent motions at council to allow animal rights groups to dictate the future of our zoo. Let them know how you feel about this!
Ask the media why they never published the evidence indicated in official FOI documents so that the people of this city could know the truth! You can find your councillor’s contact information here And ask why City Councillors and Zoocheck were never called out for their LIES!
Feel free to publish your emails at https://www.facebook.com/HelpTorontoZoo
With the current shut down of the USA government which includes most of the USDA/APHIS services where will Zoocheck and PAWS turn to? Their precious ally in the USDA will have no power to manipulate in their favour. Canadian Food Inspection Agency cannot work with the USDA during furlough to discuss the issue of the transport of the Toronto Zoo elephants or the issue of tuberculosis at PAWS sanctuary.
I imagine the rage and the giant Bob Barker petition which will most certainly be upon us in the coming days is going to be vitriolic, a wrath worse than Khan’s! However we have laws in this country, laws which do not have to pander to animal rights ideology or to celebrities and thankfully we do not have within these government agencies, animal rights allies working for a mandate outside of the agencies own mandates. Those laws have been breached; they were breached multiple times by Toronto City Council on this issue. Permits were applied for when due diligence was not complete, the independent infectious disease report council adopted over the Toronto Zoo Vets due diligence was paid advocacy and misrepresented to council. Efforts to conceal a disease are also considered a federal violation. Toronto City council seems to think it is autonomous and outside the laws which govern our province and our country, that they have the power to force laws and decisions based on their personal beliefs onto the people or in this case elephants of this city.
During the summer of 2012 council wilfully pursued forcing a vote to have the elephants transported on a plane which did not meet the International Aviation regulations for live animal transport. They were well aware that passing the motion would mean breaking the law, break animal welfare laws as well as put the elephant’s lives at risk. But it seems at this point we have extremists on council who have clearly lost the plot. Or perhaps it was a power play by Councillors playing to the tune of one councillor who thinks she could be Mayor one day? And what is the plot? I suppose we must remind them that is to have these elephants transported safely and humanely to a new home which is safe from disease, in a warmer climate and more importantly which enhances the social needs of the three pachyderms.
Upon the publication of a Toronto Star news story which indicated that Canadian food Inspection Agency had not approved the transport plan for the elephants the anti zoo coalition went berserk on social media yesterday, hurling angry rage filled rants at anyone and everyone they consider as the enemy over this issue. This misdirected rage was annoying to say the least. It was not those opposed to this transport plan that promised a plane for two years and then reneged. It is also not those opposed to this transfer and transport plan who came out publicly just a few short weeks ago and announced that ALL THE PERMITS WERE IN and that the transport was a go. No, that was not us. It was in fact Zoocheck. Why did they make these announcements knowing full well that a key permit had not yet been granted?
This pumped up the anti zoo and pro PAWS supporters only to bring them down, and bring them down hard. I can respect that sense of disappointment but I cannot accept blaming us for this or respect the angry hate filled commentary directed at someone simply because they have an opposing ideology, extremist rage accomplishes nothing. In their own words we are an irrelevant group of people who have no credibility so how could we have managed to make the Federal government bend to our will? Perhaps if they spent less time maligning and insulting people on social media and more time working effectively to contact governing agencies and to research and present the facts they would not be facing this current set back and disappointment?
None of those opposed to this transfer had any intentions of getting involved in an “us vs them” or “zoo vs sanctuary” war. Our sole mandate was to ensure that these elephants go to the facility which best suits their needs at this time, safely and humanely. It is highly unlikely that the staunch opposition against zoos will relinquish their ideology to evaluate more impartially all the factors which should be considered in this matter. It is unfortunate that this public relations strategy designed and promoted by animal rights activists and organizations prevents mutual respect for passion and caring for animals. It denies productive collaboration to improve welfare in zoos where it is needed and to work together fighting to save wild elephants from extinction by poaching.
Imagine what could be accomplished if you took extremism out of the equation?
Zoocheck and PAWS as well as councillors have stated that the elephants cannot stay in Toronto one more winter. With Zoocheck’s inability to provide humane and legal transport to PAWS for almost 2 years now it is time for council to re evaluate their decision. With AZA cooperation the elephants could be in Florida in 2 days. The original crates from the previous transporter are still on site. Our ladies could be basking in the Florida sunshine before December. Settled at last where they can enjoy a new family, room to roam and the retirement they deserve.
The biggest Canadian Snowbirds Florida will ever see!
Citing various odd reasons, one being security issues the request through Freedom of Information Laws was denied. Even stranger is the wording in the response from the clerks office at Toronto City Hall.
The last paragraph, section 11 (e) in particular caught our attention. The first reason cited, 8 (1)(i) security could have been handled by redacting specific dates, times etc. However a route plan, duration of trip and stops should have been released so as to determine whether the plan is in accordance with the humane laws which govern animal transport both in Canada and the USA. As the Toronto Zoo elephants are still legally and technically owned by the City of Toronto the people of Toronto, citizens have a legal right to review the plan so as to take whatever action they might see fit in accordance to their civil rights if in fact any, part or all of the transport plan Could be in contravention of Provincial and/or Federal laws.
Section 11(e) reads: relates to positions, plans, procedures, criteria or instructions to be applied to any negotiations carried on or to be carried on by or on behalf of an institution;
Section 11(g) reads: relates to information including proposed plans, policies or projects of an institution if the disclosure could reasonably be expected to result in premature disclosure of a pending policy decision or undue financial benefit or loss to a person.
What pending policy decision?
The zoo and Zoocheck announced in September that ALL the permits were in and that the elephants would be leaving mid to late October. What would be left to negotiate if this were the case?
The transport plan is legally PAWS property and transport is Zoocheck’s responsibility so I guess they have some say in whether it is made public.
Until the trucks leave Toronto Zoo property the Toronto Zoo elephants are technically still the legal property of the city of Toronto. One would think citizens would have a legal right to review the plans to determine whether or not it is in contravention of any laws regarding the humane transport of animals. Our supporting evidence for this concern would be the effort by Toronto Council and Zoocheck to force the air transport in August of 2012 knowing full well that the plane’s low pressurized cargo hold was in fact in direct violation of IATA laws governing the humane air transport of live animals.
Awarded to Zoocheck!
1. For publicly announcing that ALL the permits required to transport the Toronto Zoo elephants were in when clearly one of the most important permits had not been received yet we give one Proppie to Zoocheck’s Julie Woodyer
This press release went out from the zoo on September 18, 3013
Here in a Toronto Star Article Zoocheck Canada’s Julie Woodyer says
“It’s all come together,” Woodyer said. “The stars have finally lined up.”
All necessary permits are in and zoo CEO John Tracogna has approved the transport plan, which will see the elephant trio travel across the continent by truck, according to Woodyer.
Our letter from the Ministry of Agriculture came in just 6 days after the zoo and Zoocheck made their announcements. See here for details.
Congratulations!! We cannot think of anyone more deserving and we are looking forward to many more!
Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, one of the lead supporters of the transfer of the Toronto Zoo elephants to the PAWS sanctuary 4200km away in California promoted Air transport over road transport and used Bob Barkers donated transport money to win public favour for the controversial move. A
In March 2013, just 6 months ago Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker endorses Air Transport for the Toronto Zoo elephants to PAWS which is 4200km away in California, well he supported it when he thought they could get a Canadian Air Force plane.
Glenn De Baeremaker how quickly you change your tune, here he promotes air transport and claims the transport take 4-5 days by truck!!! Just months later he says he has concerns about the plane transport and promotes truck transport saying it would only take 48 hrs! And he reminds us Bob Barker is paying??? Can you say flip flop?
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 reason. 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!
What 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.
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!