Toronto Zoo staff have been given a target date of April 30 next year to ship three aging elephants to a new home in California.
The date was set by members of the zoo board Thursday, the result of a five-hour meeting that included dozens of pleas from the public regarding the animals' fate, and even a recording of a purr-like humming from one of the elephants played by a keeper at the urging of a board member.
Along with sound effects, there were fireworks as board members argued over a recent decision by city council that overturned the wishes of the zoo board to send the elephants to a facility accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Council last month endorsed a surprise motion ordering that the elephants be sent to PAWS, an unaccredited sanctuary long touted by animal-rights activists such as former Price Is Right host Bob Barker. The City of Toronto owns the zoo and can override the decisions of its board.
Zoo chief executive John Tracogna said his staff will work to meet the April date but noted they are in uncharted waters and have never arranged a cross-continent journey for three elephants. "I'm hoping it's realistic," he said. "If things are changing, we'll report that back."