Letter to the editor, Toronto Star

The following is the text of a letter I recently sent to the editor of the Toronto Star after reading an article that appeared in the April 20, 2012, issue of that newspaper. View news article, here.

I have read your April 20, 2012 article titled, “The Toronto Zoo’s departing elephants have squashed its accreditation. Thanks, Bob Barker” with some dismay and profound confusion. 

To blame a benefactor who is donating a million dollars to the city and the zoo to assist in correcting a blatant, controversial blunder created by AZA and its pitifully inadequate standards, is incredibly rude, and economically foolish. 

If AZA’s standards were meaningful, the zoo would have lost its accreditation years ago for keeping multiple elephants in a barren, confined space with no opportunity to express basic elephant behavior. The elephant exhibit at the zoo has been a source of embarrassment to the city for years, and the city council should be commended for the decision to close the exhibit and relocate the elephants. The “elephantine mistake” has been allowing the zoo’s “expert staff” and the AZA to make the decisions, when they created the problem in the first place by allowing the substandard conditions to continue over many years, resulting in the deaths of several elephants. 

Mr. Barker has not made a pet project of securing the Toronto Zoo’s elephants, he simply offered financial assistance for their translocation to PAWS. Basic rules of etiquette indicate at least a thank you note is appropriate for a donation of any size; Mr. Barker’s generous donation deserves a huge vote of gratitude from everyone in the city. 

Conversely, if Mr. Barker decides to withdraw his offer, and he should, the city and the taxpayers who support the zoo will be left with a million dollar financial burden which I doubt AZA will assist in defraying. They will certainly be unable to finance the cost of air transport which zoo “experts” have insisted is essential. 

Losing AZA accreditation may be the first step on the road to saving the zoo; if not, they can always apply again next year after Bob Barker and his persistent “Come on down” blandishments have disappeared. 

Pat Derby

Correcting Misinformation About PAWS

PAWS is not a zoo, we are a Sanctuary; we provide a dignified peaceful refuge to injured, abused, unwanted and retired animals. Zoos, on the other hand, seek to form collections of healthy, virile specimens to exhibit and breed in displays that are often inadequate. Fortunately, some zoos are changing their ways. 

When it comes to our elephants, our medical issues arrive with the elephants. The same cannot be said for many zoos and circuses which often create foot problems, arthritis and skin diseases in elephants due to lack of space, poor facilities and unnatural substrates. PAWS inherits all of those problems when those animals are retired to PAWS. Virtually every elephant that comes to PAWS has a history of physical and/or psychological illness, often untreatable. We are the last alternative to the painful and lonely death of an animal who may have suffered most of its life.

With the City of Toronto’s decision to donate the Toronto Zoo elephants to PAWS, the question of TB at PAWS has become the focus of certain zoo personnel and other misguided individuals who are opposed to sending the Toronto Zoo elephants to PAWS in the uninformed belief that their presence at PAWS endangers their welfare. 

Most recently, some people who purport to be associated with the Toronto Zoo, as well as a veterinarian, Dr. Rapley, have conducted what can only be described as a “witch hunt” directed at PAWS by their urging the media and local agencies that regulate PAWS, to “investigate” PAWS based upon false and misleading statements. They have conducted a never-ending, misinformed, one-sided Facebook war, pursuing what, in our opinion, is a highly unethical and unprofessional tactic under the guise of “due diligence.”

To eliminate the continued spread of this misinformation, I have summarized below the current status of TB at PAWS:

Every elephant at PAWS has tested consistently negative for trunk wash culture for TB. None have ever culture tested positive.

There are two relatively new blood tests, the STAT/PAK and the MAPIA, which are not approved or used in Canada, but are required by USDA in the United States. They indicate if the elephant has ever been exposed to TB, and, if an elephant is reactive to either test, the USDA recommends more frequent trunk wash testing for that elephant.

Because PAWS accepts elephants, like Nicholas and Gypsy, from facilities known to have active TB, we always quarantine those elephants for at least one year, and trunk wash test several times. Nicholas and Gypsy were kept at PAWS Galt facility, the only elephants on that property, for a year and a half before coming to ARK 2000. Prince is currently in an isolated quarantine area at ARK 2000, and so was Sabu after his arrival.

All of our African elephants, with which the Toronto elephants will be housed,  have been non-reactive to the blood tests, and we always keep separate cleaning equipment, feed buckets and supplies for each elephant barn. The African habitat and barn is completely separate from all other elephants and barns.

Nicholas, who lives in a separate barn and habitat on Bull Mountain is non-reactive to the blood tests. Prince, who is in quarantine in a separate barn and habitat has tested reactive to one of the blood tests. We trunk wash test him frequently and he is consistently negative on trunk wash culture.

Among the Asians, Wanda is non-reactive to the blood tests, but Annie and Gypsy are reactive; all are trunk wash culture negative.

TB is an enigma among elephants, and the professionals continue to gather information. 

St. Louis Zoo has been treating an elephant, Donna, for a year for active TB. They have stated that they have no idea how she became infected. “We assume elephants get TB like any other animal,” said the zoo’s director of animal health, Dr. Randy Junge. “An animal or human who has TB blows it out and another animal can pick it up. It takes prolonged contact. But we have a closed herd with no animals coming or going.”

It was reported that Donna would remain with the zoo’s other elephants who would be tested frequently for TB. Junge said there is no point separating Donna from the herd now. “She’s been with them all along so they’ve all been exposed to what she’s been exposed to,” said Junge. “Because they are social animals, putting her in isolation would be inappropriate. We want her to remain comfortable and for herd life to go on.”

In 2000 another elephant, Carolyn, 32, died at St. Louis Zoo. Cause of death was listed as TB. 

In 2010, the Dickerson Park Zoo in Missouri began treating C.C., the zoo’s eldest elephant, and the fifth oldest elephant living in AZA-accredited zoos. According to news reports, the zoo’s veterinarian, Dr. Erica Wilson stated, “At this time, C.C. shows no symptoms of an active illness, only that at some point in her lifetime she has been exposed to this bacterium.”

Dr. Wilson went on to say, “C.C. and the other elephants are beloved animals for everyone working on the zoo’s staff and throughout the community as a whole. We treat animals for a variety of conditions all the time. And, we go to great lengths to ensure the best quality care for our animals every day.”

San Francisco Zoo received an elephant, Calle, from LA Zoo who trunk washed positive and was treated for the disease. Calle was originally a Have Trunk Will Travel elephant who gave rides to the public for several years before she was traded to LA Zoo.

TB is prevalent in circuses and some zoos. It is treatable and certainly is not the cause of the majority of elephant deaths in captivity. Rather, most elephants in captivity die from foot diseases and/or arthritis.

It is for this reason that Iringa’s foot problem continues to be the major cause of concern, given she is more likely to die from this condition rather than from anything at PAWS.

And, it is for this reason that the furtive attempts of some to hide Iringa’s foot problems, while postulating a theory of her death from TB at PAWS, is a shocking reminder of the lack of ethics which prevails among some. Indeed, the Zoo will not allow our veterinarian to film the treatment of Iringa’s foot, although we will inherit this problem and need to be informed about her ongoing treatment.

I find the highly inaccurate, and easily refuted, information on the ages of elephants who have died at PAWS so outrageous, I will not waste time on responding. Elephant ages and other data is kept in the Asian and African studbooks and is a valuable reference for those who can read. (Click on links, above.)

PAWS has provided this information at the risk of legal action by those who have donated elephants to us under confidentiality agreements. Toronto Zoo is requesting outside experts to evaluate this situation — although everyone who regulates us IS an outside expert. Their reluctance to allow any outside expert to examine Iringa’s foot is, therefore, even more confusing.

Pat Derby, PAWS President

PAWS Seeks New Elephant Keeper

After days spent dealing with the surprise of the Toronto Zoo elephants’ pending arrival, and the misinformation about PAWS and ARK 2000 we’ve been reading in news reports and on social media sites ever since, Ed and I were excited to watch good friend, and PAWS supporter, Tony LaRussa win the World Series.

When Tony announced his retirement yesterday morning, we sent him a text message offering him a job as an elephant keeper. It’s sort of an inside joke — Tony has helped us lobby for elephants and he has visited our elephants on many occasions. Tony loves elephants! Actually, he has all the right qualifications for a good elephant person: he’s focused; attentive; very intelligent; and thoughtful. Those are key components for understanding these huge individuals who are all different, like baseball stars.

Tony texted back saying he wanted to apply and would interview. It was great fun and a relief from the tension generated by the recent news. We will be seeking more qualified personnel, but Tony is WAY out of our league.

When Tony told the story on the Late Show With David Letterman last night, we were very grateful for the plug. Three more elephants will be very expensive and Tony knows that, having helped us many times in the past.

Thank you, and congratulations Tony LaRussa!