by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
Tuesday was a memorable date for me and for Born Free USA.
I had helped work on a proposal by Toronto City Hall Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker to ban the ownership, sale or consumption of shark in Toronto. Shark fin, considered to be an expensive delicacy used in traditional Chinese cuisine for special occasions, too often derives from the cruel practice called “finning” — cutting the fins off sharks and dumping the bodies, at times still alive, back into the ocean.
While there was strong opposition to the proposed ban from some restaurants and caterers, many people, including Chinese Canadians, were sickened by the practice. Apart from the cruelty involved, many shark populations were nearing extinction, the demand greatly overwhelming supply.
The proposal passed.
But there was another proposal in the works, on an issue that I had been working on, helping various colleagues, for the past couple of years.
I knew that Councillor Michelle Berardinetti was one of many Toronto politicians who wanted the last three elephants moved from their quarters at the Toronto Zoo, and that she was a dedicated worker on behalf of the elephants. What I didn’t know was that she now felt that she had enough votes on the council to make it happen. There had been strong opposition both on councillors and from the zoo community.
There was no doubt the elephants should be moved. All three had reached the age where zoo elephants develop a suite of medical problems, particularly arthritis and other painful foot ailments, and the zoo was down to the minimum number supposedly allowed by the regulations of the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, given that elephants are a social species. The zoo had presented a proposal to refurbish the display area to provide better conditions for the three lady elephants, but it would cost far more than a council whose mayor had been elected a year earlier on a platform of widespread cost-cutting. Indeed, City Council had only recently decided to ask for tenders to buy the zoo, one of the world’s largest zoos, and a firm in Spain had expressed an interest.
But, just days earlier, the Toronto Zoo staff said they were in negotiations with a U.S. zoo to take the elephants, and at least two city councillors who also sat on the zoo board, one as vice-chair, seemed adamant that the elephants would be better off at another zoo. Born Free USA agreed with those wanting the animals moved to the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary, in Northern California, where the animals would have far more space to roam, in an appropriately warm climate, and in the company of other retired elephants who were once in zoos or circuses.
It was late in the evening when Berardinetti made put her motion on the floor. People were tired, councillors wanted to go home, but to their credit enough stayed to assure a quorum, and the move was passed, 31 to 4.