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May 28, 2011 / V A Nichols

Insightful exchange: PAWS and AZA

The Toronto Zoo's elephants, from left, Toka, Iringa and Thikaa

International Organization Outraged by Defamatory Remarks Made by Representatives of the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA)

(San Andreas, CA) — When Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) director Ed Stewart visited the City of Toronto on May 12, 2011, to present PAWS’ formal offer of free lifetime care, relocation and transportation expenses for the Toronto Zoo’s three African elephants, opposition from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums was expected.

What was not expected was the egregious misinformation disseminated by the AZA to the Toronto Zoo Board of Management and the media. This information is considered by PAWS to be not only unprofessional, but also defamatory.

PAWS realizes the AZA’s positions are not always unanimously supported by its member zoos, and because of this PAWS has worked cooperatively on behalf of captive elephants with a number of AZA accredited zoos. Thus, PAWS has provided sanctuary to elephants retired from zoos in Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Alaska.

A letter from PAWS founder, and co-director, Pat Derby, has been sent to the AZA demanding a retraction of their defamatory remarks. Here is a copy of that letter.

5_27_2011 Update: AZA responds to Pat Derby’s Letter (Letter linked above)

(Actual text AZA Facebook posting below)


In response to Pat Derby’s letter to the AZA


AZA Accreditation Standards Important for Elephants

by Association of Zoos & Aquariums on Thursday, May 26, 2011 at 7:41am

A number of people have questioned why AZA would express the opinion that sanctuaries were not a preferred option for the elephants at the Toronto Zoo, a position adopted by the Zoo’s Board of Management. We’re sorry that some took offense and believe it is important to respond to these questions.

Not all zoos are the same. That’s why AZA’s independent Accreditation Commission, which holds zoos to high and mandatory standards, is critical. This process provides people with the assurance that the animals in AZA-accredited facilities are getting the best care.

Not all sanctuaries are the same, and we did not mention any sanctuaries by name in our letter to the Toronto Zoo Board of Management.  Our point was: how could you know which of these facilities deliver adequate care and which do not?  In our opinion, with a lower level of public scrutiny and not having gone through anything as rigorous as the AZA accreditation process, there is not an easy way to tell.  Some nursing homes without accreditation might be great places, but that extra level of assurance can be important when you are deciding where your grandmother might live.

We also wanted to point out that AZA-accredited facilities also make a significant commitment to science education and wildlife conservation – also called for in the Accreditation Standards. These are important factors when you consider why we have elephants in zoos.

One more word on standards: AZA Accreditation Standards are rising over time, and we are always striving to improve the care for elephants. You can always point to times in the past when standards were not as high or when things did not go as planned – certainly true for zoos and for sanctuaries.  But, what we have in common is that we all love elephants and are all trying to do what is right for these magnificent creatures.

Elephants inspire passionate feelings. With that in mind, please keep your posts constructive. Destructive or mean-spirited comments will be deleted.




Friday, May 27, 2011


AZA Accreditation Standards Detrimental for Elephants


PAWS would like to thank the many elephant advocates who have posted comments and responses to our recent letter to AZA.  Public opinion is critical to effect change within this archaic institution whose arrogant claims are unsubstantiated, and driven by a desire to placate a diverse assortment of individual zoos.

AZA’s response (above) is redundant and misleading. AZA’S independent Accreditation Commission does not “hold zoos to high and mandatory standards”; many accredited and affiliated facilities violate their own inadequate standards which still allow bullhooks, electricity and overnight chaining as acceptable management “tools.”

Since PAWS was the only sanctuary that made a formal offer to take the Toronto Zoo elephants and Ed Stewart, PAWS director, flew to Toronto to present our proposal, it is disingenuous to state that the defamatory remarks about sanctuaries “did not mention any sanctuary by name.”

I am struck by one very cogent remark about science education and wildlife conservation as “important factors when you consider why we have elephants in zoos.” The sacrifices required of the elephants which we all profess to love are a high price to pay for “science education.” Captivity and the paltry accreditation standards set for zoos is not “what is right for these magnificent creatures.”


Pat Derby

PAWS President


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