Animal rights advocates question why elephants are still in captivity after incident

Tourists ride on an elephant in Pinnewala, Sri Lanka. A caretaker at African Lion Safari, located between Hamilton and Cambridge, Ont., was injured by one of the elephants at the facility earlier this week. (Getty)

African Lion Safari, a wildlife attraction outside of Toronto, is facing a stampede of criticism after one of its trainers was attacked by an elephant.

On June 21, a notice was posted on the Facebook page of the drive-through animal park, stating that the employee had sustained non-life threatening injuries. The statement also said the elephant will remain in the heard.

The Ministry of Labour is now looking into the incident.

On the wildlife park’s website, it says it has a herd of 16 Asian elephants, which would make it the biggest herd in any North American zoological facility.

There are reports that elephant rides for visitors were taking place right before the trainer was injured, though that activity isn’t advertised on the company’s website.

“We started having different emotions about putting our kids on the elephants after standing there watching them do circle after circle, loading and unloading kids. We began wondering if this was fair,” Geoff Jackson told CTV News.

This isn’t the first time an elephant has been involved in an incident at the wildlife park. In 1989, a 21-year-old elephant handler was crushed to death while trying to break up a fight between two of the animals.

The recent news of the injured employee has prompted many animal rights advocates to question not only why the park still keeps elephants, but why it also uses them as entertainment.

Camille Labchuk is the executive director of Animal Justice, a group which works to form stronger animal protection laws and prosecute animal abusers. She told Yahoo Canada News that she’s shocked there hasn’t been any incidents involving members of the public, since elephant rides are not something experts would recommend as a safe activity. Labchuk also condemns training methods typically used on elephants, which include bull hooks. Some jurisdictions have banned the use of these devices.

“When you’re psychologically torturing an animal and forcing him or her to perform, it’s not surprising that some elephants snap and retaliate,” she says.

While African Lion Safari houses its herd of elephants in an open air facility, Labchuk says the animals still require the space to roam many kilometres a day to keep their feet in good health.

“The fact that Canada recently passed a ban on whales and dolphins in captivity is inspiring,” she says. “It suggests to me that we should be asking for a ban on elephant captivity next.”

In recent years other zoos in Canada have rehoused their elephants. In 2012, the Toronto Zoo relocated its elderly elephants Thika, Toka and Iringa to a facility in California, after former Price is Right host and animal rights activists Bob Barker launched a campaign. The Calgary Zoo followed suit in 2014, when it moved its three elephants to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, D.C.

There’s also been pressure Edmonton’s Valley Zoo to relocate its lone elephant, Lucy.

A petition has been launched to stop elephant rides at African Lion Safari.