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Toronto sending zoo’s three elephants to California

Iringa, Toka and Thika to be transferred to the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary in San Andreas. The elephants are seen here, photographed on May 1 2012 at the Metro Toronto Zoo.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Toronto city council voted 32-8 Tuesday night to send three aging African elephants from the Toronto Zoo to an 80-acre sanctuary in California.

The decision came after a lengthy debate and after the Toronto Zoo's CEO and top veterinarian both told councillors that doing so would put the three elephants – Iringa, Toka and Thika – at risk of developing tuberculosis.

"This is disappointing, but we have to respect council's decision," said John Tracogna, the zoo's CEO. "We've had a public debate … and it's time to move on."

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The transfer has to happen before the end of the year.

In October 2011, council took the unusual step of becoming directly involved in the decision over where the elephants would retire, ordering staff to send the trio to the sanctuary – run by the Performing Animals Welfare Society – and overriding a previous zoo-board decision. This past September, Mr. Tracogna and Graham Crawshaw, the zoo's senior veterinarian, submitted a report to the zoo's board of management that included evidence that some elephants at the sanctuary had tuberculosis.

But Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, who again voted in favour of sending the elephants to the PAWS sanctuary, said many top experts have cited the California sanctuary as a top-notch facility to care for elephants.

The motion also calls on Edmonton to take immediate action to move its 37-year-old Asian elephant, Lucy, to a warmer climate as soon as possible.

Toronto city council voted last fall to send the elephants to the U.S. facility after groups voiced concerns about the animals' welfare and after animal-activist Bob Barker promised to pay for a plane to fly the elephants to their new home.

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