This tragedy is sadly about much more than the death of a 49 year old elephant at a zoo. Limba was Canada's oldest elephant, because most elephants Limba's age get to retire and live close to the way they would have in the wild, in a warm climate, socializing with other elephants. Younger elephants Iringa, 44, Toka, 43, and Thika, 33, were recently moved from the Toronto Zoo to the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in San Andreas, Calif.
The Bowmanville Zoo has stubbornly kept Limba as their sole elephant since her companion Sheba died in 2011, and forced her to perform in parades and circuses. In January of this year, California-based animal rights group In Defense of Animals (IDA) named the Bowmanville Zoo the second-worst zoo in North America for elephants, stating that the zoo was imposing a "cruel sentence" on Limba, giving her a "miserable, lonely life." During performances the zoo frequently used a bull hook on Limba, which is a cruel training device that was recently banned by Los Angeles city council .
Two weeks ago, after finding a possibly cancerous, grapefruit sized lump on Limba, the zoo decided to make her march in the Bowmanville Santa Claus Parade. When protesters made it clear that they would be there, parade organizers asked the zoo to leave Limba at home, but then reversed that decision when they secured more police presence at the parade to deal with protesters (which proved unnecessary because the protest was peaceful and unobtrusive). Some residents made a Facebook page called "We want Limba in the Bowmanville Santa Claus Parade." To them, the joy of seeing Limba in the community far outweighed concern for Limba's well being.
Additionally, the Bowmanville Zoo was planning on including Limba in their Christmas circus performance, shamelessly named "The Animal's Gift."
Though I am greatly saddened that Limba did not get to live her final days in peaceful retirement, she is now at peace. She no longer has to suffer through harsh Canadian winters that she was not made for, and her lifelong servitude to masters that made her perform humiliating tricks through coercion with a bullhook is over. I sincerely hope we can learn from this, and widen our circle of compassion to include non-human animals.
After all the crazy Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals, today is Giving Tuesday. In honour of Limba, I just donated to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee in the hopes that more zoo and circus elephants will be able to retire in peace, and the Wildlife Conservation Network and Save The Elephant's Elephant Crisis Fund, tackling the supply of, demand for and trafficking of ivory.