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Elephants are out: Toronto Zoo officials vote to phase out pachyderms

Officials and board members at the Toronto Zoo voted 5-2 Thursday to close its controversial elephant exhibit.

It could take up to two years to phase out the popular pachyderm program, including getting the proper permits and training.

Officials say they have rejected a sanctuary proposed by former “Price is Right” host and animal activist Bob Barker, because it isn’t sanctioned by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

“I’m disappointed we had the opportunity to give our elephants the Cadillac option of care, the largest compound in the warmest place with the greatest financial stability with the most stimulation, the best vets, and we turned that down,” city councillor and zoo board member Glenn De Baeremaeker said Thursday.

“We turned that down because we are a zoo and it appears to me that some people are afraid to do anything other than give it to a fellow zoo,” De Baeremaeker added.

Controversy erupted when Barker proclaimed Toronto was too cold to house the pachyderms, and began pressuring the zoo to send its African Bush elephants south of the border.

“It would be like having a polar bear in Las Vegas. It’s not a place where they can be healthy or happy,” Barker told CityNews last month.

The zoo was already facing concerns over whether the city could afford a new $16.5-million elephant facility or the animals’ $1-million annual upkeep bill. Four of the zoo’s elephants have died in the past five years.

“These elephants have been there for 30 or 40 years. Just like us, they’ve worked hard for a long time and it’s time to send them down south to enjoy their sunset years, much like most of our seniors want to do,” said De Baeremaeker.

But zoo officials say sanctuaries aren’t viable options, as they are not accredited by the AZAs and aren’t held up to the same quality of care standard.

Toronto currently has three elephants. Iringa is 42 years old, Toka is 41, and Thika — born at Toronto Zoo in 1980 — is 30.