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Toronto ‘A lot of tears’ as Toronto Zoo elephants start controversial move to California

An elephant at the Toronto Zoo, who along with the two others are being crate trained to keep calm and stand still for long periods before they are transported to a California sanctuary, stands in his pen during the last guaranteed viewing weekend at the Toronto Zoo on October, 14, 2013.

The Globe and Mail/Michelle Siu

The Toronto Zoo's three remaining elephants are expected to be moved onto trucks this morning, on a controversial journey to California that the zookeepers' union considers too risky for the aging pachyderms.

Starting around 8:30 a.m., Iringa, Thika and Toka will be taken out of their pen to be chained and crated before being loaded away, said Matthew Berridge, a zookeeper and vice-president of the zoo workers' union, CUPE Local 1600.

"There's a lot of tears, there's a lot of worries," he said when reached Thursday morning.

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The overland trip to the Performing Animals Welfare Society sanctuary in Galt, near Sacramento, could take several days and the zoo employees' union has raised concerns about the elephants standing for so long. "It's really sickening," Mr. Berridge said.

Related: How to move an elephant from Toronto to California

There is no disagreement that the three elephants should be relocated to a warmer climate and there were earlier plans to fly the animals, including talks with the Department of National Defence about using military planes.

However, after a lengthy, emotional battle, city council decided last month on a less expensive option, sending the elephants to PAWS by trucks.

For weeks, keepers have had to train the three elephants, to teach them to remain calm and to stand still for long periods in their moving crates. Concerns were raised when new crates for Iringa and Toka were introduced.

The trucks are expected to roll out of the zoo by 10 or 11 a.m., Mr. Berridge said.

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