2013 Hero: The Toronto Zoo's Elephant Move
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2013 Hero: The Toronto Zoo’s Elephant Move

Nominated for: prioritizing the elephants' quality of life over our attachment to them.

Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. Cast your ballot until 2 p.m. on January 1. At 4 p.m. we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.

hero elephant move matthew daley

Elephants are not meant to live in cold climates. Perhaps this is obvious in retrospect, but it took Toronto far, far too long to realize that maybe keeping three elephants in a pen every winter was not the best thing for them.

Elephants are meant to stride through wide open plains under warm sun, and every day that they were not doing this was frankly criminal. The city council votes to move the elephants crossed political lines, and objections to the plan were mostly about which proposed alternative was safest for the elephants—and so, four years after India outlawed the keeping of elephants in zoos and circuses, we have finally caught up to its standard.

We did this because we all love elephants. Elephants are great. They are one of the very few animals that we know for certain have a sense of self: if you put a dog or a cat in front of a mirror, it reacts as if there is another dog or cat there, but put an elephant in front of a mirror and the elephant recognizes itself. In that respect, elephants are very much like us; they are like us in other ways too, such as the fact that they are extremely social animals who recognize individuals within a herd and, famously, mourn their dead.

The elephants appear to be happy in California, even if they have do have to work on getting used to walking up and down hills—something they never got to do here in Toronto (and the list of elephanty things the elephants did not get to do here is long indeed). Perhaps it is less than modest to suggest that the moving of the elephants was a heroic act, rather than a long-overdue duty we finally undertook, far too late—but in the end, the elephants are happy now. That’s what matters.


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