A year after city council decided to send the Toronto Zoo’s three elephants to a California sanctuary, and four hours into a debate on whether to follow through with that course of action, Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday sunk his face into his hands. It was 10:30 p.m. and the tail end of a 13-hour day, but the decision about what to do with Toka, Thika, and Iringa remained a legitimately difficult one.
Last year, council overwhelmingly agreed to send the elephants to the PAWS sanctuary in California, but developments that citizens raised at council on Monday have added wrinkles to that plan. Some expressed concern about a recent spate of tuberculosis in the California sanctuary, while others questioned the political motives of the Toronto Zoo in wanting to keep the elephants despite the cold climate and small quarters. Others proposed sending them to a Florida sanctuary to be built by January, but this site was criticized both for being too small and for using bullhooks, a training tool that harms sensitive elephant skin (though the zoo claims it doesn’t use them).
Just before 11 p.m., the executive committee voted to let the Toronto Zoo choose where to send the pachyderms. Holyday never wanted to decide on this issue, and has said as much. He sighed; there was passion and empathy for elephants in the room, but their patience was more difficult to match.