Why bother re-opening Toronto Zoo?

As managers and their striking employees try to hammer out a new contract and re-open the Toronto Zoo, some potential visitors are saying: “Please don’t.”The 43-year-old zoo’s closure last week, when staff walked off the job, prompted social media commentary and emails to the Star arguing zoos are outdated, inhumane attractions that should be closed outright, or converted to animal sanctuaries where the question of whether people can see them is way down the list of priorities.“It’s sort of a taste for us all, including the animals, of what it’s like to not have a zoo in Toronto,” says Daniel Bender, a University of Toronto historian who wrote “The Animal Game: Searching for Wildness at the American Zoo” published last year. “For some people that’s a cause for great celebration.”They include animal rights lawyer Camille Labchuk, who says “there could be a future for the zoo but it would have to operate very differently.“Rather than putting on a for-profit exercise where animals can be displayed to the detriment of their welfare, I think the zoo could play a better role in actually protecting these animals and giving them sanctuary, rehabilitating animals, providing homes for ones that can’t be released back into the wild.Article Continued Below“If there is a way the public can see them incidentally, I don’t necessarily think that’s a problem, but priority number one has to be the welfare of the animals,” she says, arguing zoo claims of saving endangered species are an overblown justification for animal display.While major zoos are accredited through the American Zoo Association and its Canadian affiliate, held to standards on everything from enclosure size to breeding programs, sanctuaries — often for mistreated or abandoned exotic animals — operate more independently. In 2013, after a bitter battle involving politicians, animal rights advocates and zookeepers, Toronto Zoo’s elephant program was closed and two of its stars transferred to Performing Animals Welfare Society sanctuary in California.