Elephant in Toronto ZOO
The AZA (the Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and CAZA (the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums) expressed their concerns about the Toronto Zoo’s decision to transfer three elephants to the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), an animal sanctuary in California that has no AZA accreditation. The AZA even went as far threatening to pull the Toronto Zoo’s accreditation if its board doesn’t reconsider its choice of facility.
Certification = Professionalism?
The AZA and CAZA are convinced that their certification is something like a gold standard of zoo quality, and both organizations share their worries about the sanctuary’s compliance with the strict AZA accreditation standards. The possible trouble arising from the eventual accreditation removal lies in losing potential partners in AZA zoos. Since many animals in the Toronto Zoo are placed here on loan, numerous loan agreements with other AZA accredited facilities could be in jeopardy.
The zoo staff immediately expressed their anxiety, claiming that the accreditations are “valuable to the Toronto Zoo“ and that they are a guarantee of keeping the zoo within the club of modern and professional zoos around the world. The employees were also backed by zoo board member and councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby, who agrees that the decision may need a second thought, as the implications of AZA sanctions would be “sweeping.“
by Wikimedia Commons
This seems like it spells lots of trouble for the zoo. Or does it? Maybe all of this turmoil isn’t really about elephants’ well-being as much as it relates to the AZA’s striving for more power. The AZA is certainly a fine organization with beautiful ideals about animal keeping, but it’s important to note that it is by no means a governmental body and it possesses no power over the zoos. On the contrary, it is run as a business, cleverly selling the accreditation statuses and working on its image as the sole guarantee of the zoos’ ultimate quality. While its inspections and safety and ethical rules are certainly right in being strict, it is nonsense to consider all the facilities outside this elitist club to be less professional.
Over the years, AZA zoos have had their fair share of animal accidents, sometimes resulting in deaths for animals as well as people. Although some of the cases may be just accredited to bad luck, others are clear results of staff incompetence surprisingly occurring inside AZA zoos. Just a quick example: a male chimpanzee at the North California Zoo died after being given too much anesthetics (although the zoo’s official statements points to his heart problems…). And a fair question is, what did the AZA do to punish the zoo? You guessed right: nothing, as it has no power to impose penalties on its members.
Furthermore, the PAWS animal sanctuary boasts one of the best elephant care programs in North America. Currently, their stats look much more favourable when it comes to median age of elephant deaths or hours of care. The elephants from Toronto would certainly be transferred to better living conditions compared to their current home.
Councillor Glen De Baeremaeker put it clearly: “I don’t like the bullies threatening me.” He added that all the AZA is up to is taking care of their egos and political turf. He also remarked that the AZA’s threat is absurd, as AZA certified zoos have already sent some of their elephants to PAWS without losing certification. While the AZA likes to talk about the Toronto Zoo’s chance of losing credibility, it seems to me that the only one in danger of losing it is AZA itself.