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Toronto Iringa, former Toronto Zoo elephant, dies in California sanctuary

Toka, left, and Iringa, are seen here May 1, 2012 at the Toronto Zoo. The Performing Animals Welfare Society Sanctuary in San Andreas, Calif., says the 46-year-old Iringa was humanely euthanized Wednesday following a history of degenerative joint and foot disease.

FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

One of three Toronto Zoo elephants who were moved to a California sanctuary two years ago has died.

The Performing Animals Welfare Society sanctuary in San Andreas, Calif., said the 46-year-old Iringa was humanely euthanized Wednesday following a history of degenerative joint and foot disease.

Iringa, along with Thika and Toka, were moved to the sanctuary in 2013 after the zoo ended its elephant program and Toronto city council voted to relocate them.

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Bob Barker, former "Price is Right" host and animal activist, paid nearly $1 million for the elephants' four-day road trip to the sanctuary.

Keepers at the sanctuary and the Toronto Zoo said Iringa's favourite pastimes included floating in her pool, covering herself in mud and stealing treat buckets from wildcare staff.

"Iringa was special to us," sanctuary president Ed Stewart said in a statement. "She enjoyed roaming the hills of the habitat and eating natural vegetation year-round. I'm very proud of the keeper and veterinary care we provided, along with the peaceful life we gave her at our sanctuary."

One of the oldest elephants in North America, Iringa was known by Toronto Zoo staff for her intelligence and unpredictability. They said she was fond of taking younger elephants under her wing, such as Thika, who was born in the zoo in 1980.

Iringa was born in Mozambique in 1969 and captured before she was two years old. She was brought to the Toronto Zoo when she was five.

"While we are filled with overwhelming sadness we take comfort in the memories this spectacular elephant provided to our staff, volunteers, members and the millions of visitors who were fortunate enough to meet Iringa over the years," the Toronto Zoo said in a statement.

Pathologists at U.C. Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital will perform a necropsy on Iringa's remains, the sanctuary said. Degenerative joint and foot disease is a leading cause for euthanizing elephants in captivity.

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People took to social media Thursday to mourn Iringa. Many thanked the sanctuary for caring for the relocated elephants, and some condemned zoos for holding wildlife in captivity.

"Iringa, you were loved by thousands and were able to spend your last days being a real elephant, roaming the wonderful habitat at PAWS," Kate Howard wrote on the sanctuary's Facebook page.

"Rest easy gentle giant you will be missed. Thank you Toronto Zoo for making the right decision to retire your elephant program."

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