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Elephants at the Toronto Zoo's enclosure in 2003.

Toronto Zoo's three elephants are moving to the PAWS sanctuary, politicians at City Hall decided Tuesday night.

By a vote of 31-4, City Council decided to send Iringa, Toka and Thika to the PAWS sanctuary in California, the very place that the Zoo Board of Management did its best to rule out last May.

The news was met with much enthusiasm among some of the councillors, with some exchanging hugs and loud applause.

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Councillor Josh Matlow tweeted "We did it! Our elephants are going to a sanctuary," while Councillor Michelle Berardinetti who drafted to the original motion ran over to hug Doug Ford.

The decision to move the elephants has long been in contention. Earlier this spring, council agreed to a move after months of hand-wringing over the fate of the three elephants – aged 42, 41 and 30 – following zoo staff report determined the animals were too expensive and unhealthy to keep in Scarborough.

The female elephants cost more than $600,000 a year to keep, a figure expected to rise upwards of $900,000 a year if they were to remain.

The Board had voted to send them to a facility approved by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, something the California sanctuary doesn't have because it isn't a zoo and doesn't have a breeding program. Staff had been preparing a report with possible alternatives to be presented to the zoo board next month, but Tuesday's last-minute motion forced the Board to consider the sanctuary option only if an AZA facility didn't come forward.

Ms. Berardinetti said that the possibility of seeing Toronto's beloved pachyderms housed in another zoo enclosure prompted her to draft the motion.

City council's decision Tuesday does not mean the three elephants will be shipped off immediately south of the border. Zoo officials have begun a six-month process of prepping the animals for travel, with concerns over the stress they might endure in travelling and leaving their Toronto home for the first time.

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