Resources - Toronto Zoo Fact Sheet

Toronto Zoo: A Tragic History of Premature Elephant Deaths

The elephant death toll at the Toronto Zoo is unprecedented in recent history. Four elephants died prematurely in less than four years, at a time when elephant care in zoos purportedly has evolved and improved. The fact that at age 40 Tara was the longest-lived elephant at the zoo speaks volumes about the problems inherent in keeping elephants there. The Zoo's own web site states that elephants have "a potential life span of 55 to 70 years."

The premature deaths come as no surprise when you consider that Toronto Zoo lacks the space, natural conditions, and especially the temperate climate elephants need to thrive. Elephants there have succumbed to the zoo’s inadequate conditions, including Patsy who suffered debilitating arthritis, and Tessa, who was knocked down by another elephant.

Field scientists with extensive knowledge of free-ranging African elephants report that elephant in their 30s and 40s are at peak reproductive potential and generally healthy. Yet of the six elephants who died at the Toronto Zoo since 1989, the average age at death was a mere 31 years. Despite the fact that elephants at the Toronto Zoo receive regular daily attention, veterinary care and a controlled diet, they are dying decades sooner than their wild counterparts.

Three elephants: a crowd but not a herd

Tara died suddenly in November 2009, leaving only three elephants: Iringa and Toka, both wild caught in Mozambique and both approximately age 40, and Thika, born at the Toronto Zoo to mother Tequila and father Tantor (both now dead) in 1980. Three elephants may mean less crowding in the two-acre exhibit, but it doesn’t begin to resemble the extensive social groupings that elephants naturally form, particularly considering that Toka and Thika have reportedly not been compatible in the past.

At a crossroads: sanctuary, not renovation

The Toronto Zoo is owned and primarily funded by the City of Toronto and is operated on behalf of the City by a board of management. A majority (six out of 11) of the board members are city councillors. Since the dissolution of the Toronto Zoo Foundation in 2008, the board of management has taken over fundraising through a board committee. The Toronto Zoo is accredited by both the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA).

In a December 2009 letter to Zoo Board Chairman Raymond Cho, IDA urged the Board to reject a proposed $40 million elephant exhibit renovation and instead relocate the remaining elephants to a spacious, natural-habitat sanctuary that can better meet their needs. The group says that even with a costly renovation, the exhibit still will be woefully inadequate. The plan currently is unfunded.

Citing recent scientific developments and leading elephant authorities, IDA says the Toronto Zoo lacks the space and natural conditions necessary for elephants to live healthier and longer lives. Cold weather compounds the problem, as elephants are forced indoors into tiny cages for the majority of long, freezing winters, greatly restricting movement necessary to good health.

IDA and local activists are working to persuade the Zoo Board that the elephants should leave the cold city of Toronto and move to a sanctuary where they can be part of a larger social structure and have space to roam in a warmer climate.

Elephant deaths at the Toronto Zoo*

Since 1984, seven elephants died at the Toronto Zoo. None lived beyond age 40, though elephants have a natural life span of 60-70 years.

Five elephants were imported from Mozambique and were in the first group of elephants at the exhibit including:

  • Tara – 2009 , age 40, cause unknown
  • Tessa – 2009, age 40, injury when knocked over by exhibit mate
  • Tequila – 2008 age 38, cause unknown
  • Patsy – 2006 age 39, euthanized due to arthritis
  • Tantor – 1989 age 20, anesthesia related

The death toll includes two elephants born at the zoo:

  • Toronto – 1994 age 10, salmonella
  • TW – 1984, age 2 days.

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*Information from the African Elephant Studbook and