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We’ll never forget you, Toronto: Elephants’ departure plans take shape

Toka, left, and Iringa, seen here May 1, 2012 at the Toronto Zoo, will move to a California sanctuary in October, along with a third elephant, Thika.


The retirement plans for three Toronto of elephants are finally in place, with arrangements to move the aging animals to their new home in California next month.

The Toronto Zoo announced late Tuesday that the California sanctuary, operated by the Performing Animals Welfare Society, plans to move the elephants after the Thanksgiving weekend, bringing to an end a years-long tug-of-war over how best to care for Toka, Thika and Iringa.

Zoo staff will hold a briefing Wednesday on their preparation for the animals' departure.

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At one point, the zoo and PAWS were in talks with the Department of National Defence about moving the elephants by military plane, but Joe Torzsok, chair of the zoo board, told The Globe and Mail Tuesday that the latest plans are to move the elephants by truck.

"We wish our beloved ladies a good trip and all the best in their new home," Mr. Torzsok said.

Former game-show host Bob Barker has offered to cover the cost of moving the elephants to the sanctuary.

Julie Woodyer, the Toronto representative for PAWS and campaign director for watchdog group Zoo Check, estimated earlier this year that the cost of flying the elephants would likely be between $250,000 and $500,000, while driving them would cost less than $200,000.

The debate over the move has been emotional, with city council stepping in to order the transfer, a decision that sparked a backlash from some zoo staff. A report one year ago from the zoo's top veterinarian said he could not back the plan because of active tuberculosis at the 80-acre California facility, urging council to rethink its decision.

There is no disagreement that the trio of aging females would do better in a warmer climate, but the debate about where they should be moved has been filled with finger pointing on all sides. The decision by council to override the zoo board and send them to PAWS resulted in the Toronto facility losing its accreditation with one of the sector's major governing bodies.

It also was a factor in efforts to reform the zoo's relationship with the city. A city report on those proposed reforms, also released Tuesday, recommends that the zoo board keep its current composition, which includes city councillors, and that its reporting relationship with the city remain unchanged. It does recommend that council affirm that the zoo board "is solely responsible for any future decisions regarding the acquisition, disposition and overall management of the Zoo's animal and plant collection."

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With a report from Sunny Dhillon

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Toronto City Hall bureau chief



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