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African Lion Safari ended elephant rides after 2019 assault. So why are they still allowed in Canada?


Maggie stood practically three metres tall and weighed greater than 3,900 kilograms.

Born in Burma, the Asian elephant was ridden for 25 years by guests to African Lion Safari, a zoo and theme park in Flamborough, Ont., in rural Hamilton.

But on June 21, 2019, Maggie lunged at her handler because the final rider was dismounting.

Now, CBC News has obtained an Ontario Ministry of Labour report that sheds gentle on what precisely occurred throughout the last-ever elephant experience at African Lion Safari.

Activists and zoo accreditation our bodies imagine African Lion Safari was the one web site in Canada providing elephant rides. The ministry investigation raises questions on why such rides are still permitted by Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums (CAZA), though they’ve been banned for a decade by the main U.S. zoo accreditation affiliation. 

According to the 117-page report, which is closely redacted in sections, Maggie “became aggressive and began attack … by using her trunk [to] repetitively hit, spin and push the handler against the wooden railings of the platform stairway behind him.” 

A ministry inspector discovered that because the handler fell to the bottom, Maggie pushed him right into a nook. He crawled beneath the huge animal, clambering to security. But he was left critically injured, together with his head bleeding. 

CAZA, a non-public charitable group that accredits and represents zoological parks and aquariums, is reviewing its coverage on elephant rides, in keeping with its government director.

African Lion Safari refused CBC’s request for an interview, however stated in an announcement the zoo completely stopped elephant rides in 2019.

“African Lion Safari has always been and remains in full compliance of all CAZA standards that govern our park,” African Lion Safari acknowledged. “The health and safety of all visitors, staff and animals is our top priority.”

African Lion Safari is a sprawling zoo and park that covers about 305 hectares in rural Hamilton. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Ending elephant rides was welcomed by World Animal Protection, which had been calling for his or her halt. But Canadian marketing campaign director Melissa Matlow wonders why it took a “tragedy” to make the change.

“Had a decision been made to end elephant rides and shows long before, this [2019] incident could have been prevented.”

Regulations a provincial patchwork

Animal welfare guidelines range throughout Canada, with a patchwork of provincial laws.

The Ministry of the Solicitor General inspects most zoos and aquariums in Ontario, however says African Lion Safari falls beneath the Animals for Research Act (ARA), which is overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Under the act, inspectors guarantee animal care, welfare and dealing with requirements are met, however “the ARA does not prescribe or regulate the kinds of interactions people can have with animals,” spokesperson Christa Roettele stated in an electronic mail.

Instead, zoos flip to CAZA for these requirements, which have lengthy allowed elephant rides. African Lion Safari was a founding member and shows the CAZA emblem on its web site.

The charity represents 28 services throughout Canada, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which is concerned when animals are transported to the nation, acknowledges its insurance policies, in keeping with CAZA government director Jim Facette.

The rides, which had been halted in 2019, had concerned guests going up a platform to climb onto an elephant’s again. The animal would then stroll round an oval monitor. (Supplied by Ministry of Labour)

CAZA’s requirements are additionally acknowledged by British Columbia and Saskatchewan, however not Ontario, he stated.

Despite the ministry’s findings, Facette disagreed with its characterization of the incident. 

“My understanding is that it was an accident, that it was not an attack.”

CAZA’s coverage for utilizing animals in academic programming says members ought to try to deal with animals with dignity and in a method that exhibits their “natural intellect … and physical attributes, while operating in a way that’s safe for the animal, visitors and handlers.”

But it additionally lists animal rides as “appropriate educational programming.”

U.S. group says elephant rides harmful

CAZA’s American counterpart, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), hasn’t allowed any of its 241 accredited services to supply elephant rides since 2011.

Six of these websites are in Canada, together with the Calgary Zoo, Toronto Zoo and Vancouver Aquarium.

“It was dangerous,” stated AZA CEO Dan Ashe of the rides. “We had significant record of injury, and in some cases death, associated with elephants, and so the principal concern was with the safety of elephant care professionals.” 

Instead, the AZA requires protected contact — there should be a barrier between visitors and elephants always. Even educated handlers can solely be in the identical house as an elephant in particular circumstances.

“Elephant rides and things like that are an artifact of the past,” stated Ashe.

WATCH | The AZA clarify why it banned elephant rides amongst its members:

Dan Ashe, CEO of U.S.-based Association of Zoos and Aquariums, speaks about why his group banned elephant rides in 2011. 1:14

Zoos shouldn’t be “presenting [animals] as some kind of entertainment that should be performing for us,” added Ashe.

Asked why CAZA continues to allow elephant rides, Facette stated that when AZA made its resolution a decade in the past, “circumstances at the time were probably different here in Canada.”

African Lion Safari has a “high degree of expertise” round elephants, he stated.

“There was a period of time where it was felt what’s being done is fine, there is not a lot of incidents, not a lot of facilities that have these kinds of situations,” stated Facette. “Then an accident did happen and we recognize that.”

Handler crushed, died in 1989

Maggie shouldn’t be the primary elephant concerned in an assault at African Lion Safari.

A handler named Omer (additionally known as Omar) Norton was crushed and died in November 1989 when Tusko, an 18-year-old bull elephant, used its head to pin the person to the bottom. At the time, media stories stated Norton was making an attempt to interrupt up a battle between two elephants.

Tusko had a historical past of aggression towards animals, however not folks, then co-owner Don Dailley advised reporters.

“It’s been known to happen,” he was quoted as saying in a Nov. 14, 1989, newspaper report. “Elephants have also been known to swing their trunks and to gore people. They are potentially very dangerous animals.”

The monitor at African Lion Safari the place elephants could be used to offer rides to guests. (Supplied by Ministry of Labour)

Maggie is described in the ministry investigation as “old” and in her early 50s. She was transferred to African Lion Safari from Florida in May 1990.

A medical profile in the report calls her “overall physically healthy” for her age. An evaluation after the incident appeared “completely normal.”

The rides had been a possibility for visitors to “get up close” with elephants, the ministry inspector stated.

Five days every week, the elephant, carrying a customer, would plod round a fenced-in monitor with a handler strolling alongside.

Beneath the platform used to board the elephant was a shack storing saddles and instruments. Next to the steps was a nook the place workers may feed elephants hay to maintain them still.

That nook is the place the handler turned trapped when the incident involving Maggie occurred.

This reconstruction of the assault at African Lion Safari on June 21, 2019, is predicated on a diagram included in the Ministry of Labour investigative report, and exhibits how Maggie trapped her handler in opposition to the using platform. (CBC News Graphics)

The report says the elephant lunged at the handler when his again was turned. The animal pivoted practically 90 levels, blocked him in and beat him along with her trunk.

“Maggie reportedly also used her head, butting him in the chest and pushing his head into her mouth,” it reads.

Photos taken by the inspector present at the very least two items of a picket railing snapped in half throughout the assault. A sprig of dried blood may be seen in one other image.

At least two items of a picket railing had been snapped throughout the assault, as proven in pictures taken by the Ministry of Labour’s inspector. (Supplied by Ministry of Labour)

According to the investigation, a customer reportedly still had one foot on Maggie’s again when she turned aggressive.

Roughly 30 folks had been ready in line and ran for security, it says.

Two different animal handlers heard “wood snapping [and] a mixture of people screaming” earlier than seeing Maggie’s handler bleeding, the inspector acknowledged. The park’s superintendent of elephants was capable of get her beneath management, it provides.

A spokesperson for air ambulance service Ornge advised CBC in 2019 {that a} helicopter transported a person in his 30s to Hamilton General Hospital with critical accidents.

In a Facebook publish shared after the assault, African Lion Safari described the worker’s accidents as non-life-threatening and stated Maggie was still a part of its herd.

Contacted not too long ago by CBC, African Lion Safari stated it couldn’t share any up to date details about the handler’s situation, citing privateness causes.

The zoo additionally didn’t reply to questions on Maggie and whether or not she’s still residing there.

A Facebook publish from African Lion Safari on June 21, 2019, stated an worker was injured and Maggie the elephant was still with its herd. (Facebook/African Lion Safari)

Along with analyzing the elephant’s well being, the format of the monitor and the climate, the ministry seemed into two different components that would have led to the 2019 incident:

  • A mysterious situation referred to as musth (a state of “drunkenness, hilarity, ecstasy, desire or lust,” the report says, noting it is a situation distinctive to male elephants).
  • Revenge for mistreatment.

But the veterinarian who cared for the elephants at African Lion Safari stated George, the opposite elephant used for rides, had by no means proven indicators of coming into “musth,” states the report.

The inspector additionally mentioned whether or not there was a connection between the assault and the best way the elephant was educated, in addition to the animal-handler relationship.

Much of that part of the report offers with controversial instruments referred to as guides or bullhooks — metallic poles with a tapered hook on the finish.

The zoo confirmed its handlers typically use guides to cue an elephant on the course it ought to transfer, however they’re used “without exerting force,” common supervisor Trish Gerth stated.

The park stated a information wasn’t used previous to or throughout the incident involving Maggie.

The park’s veterinarian advised the ministry he had not seen “any signs … of aggression” from handlers to elephants.The inspector added he was advised coaching with Maggie was accomplished with as “little negativity as possible.”

Two years in the past, the AZA adopted a coverage barring bullhooks from routine coaching. “It has a brutal history,” stated Ashe.

They’re as an alternative used for emergencies solely.

CAZA reviewing experience coverage

Based on the investigation, no prosecution was suggest following the 2019 assault due to a “lack of obvious contraventions … directly leading to the incident.”

The inspector stated methods to raised shield handlers throughout rides had been assessed, however “limited viable solutions [were] identified.” 

The report says African Lion Safari voluntarily suspended elephant rides proper after the incident.

African Lion Safari prides itself on its conservation and breeding program. Gerth stated the zoo’s mission is to offer the “highest standard of care” for its Asian elephants.

“Our hope is to inspire our visitors to protect and preserve biodiversity and endangered species,” she wrote.

Facette stated the zoo supplied CAZA with a overview of the assault, together with modifications to stop related incidents.

African Lion Safari confirmed it completely stopped providing elephant rides in 2019. Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums says it is at the moment reviewing its coverage that permits them. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

CAZA additionally accomplished its personal investigation, however Facette stated he could not share both doc, pointing to authorized and privateness points.

The Canadian group is a part of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), which up to date its tips for animal-visitor interactions final 12 months, calling for members to not take part in “experiences where animals perform in a manner that does not constitute normal and natural wild-state behaviour.” 

“Do not present animals in a way that the visitors could perceive them as exotic pets or ‘performers,'” the suggestions learn.

Facette stated CAZA is reviewing WAZA’s modifications and its personal requirements. Its accreditation fee is predicted to report again in November.

“I do think in the very near future the board will likely approve a policy that will say elephant rides in Canada do not meet our standard,” he stated.

Asked whether or not the present requirements failed the handler damage at African Lion Safari, Facette stated he believes they didn’t.

“I don’t think it’s fair to say … that the standards of the time failed anyone.”

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