Toronto's three aging elephants will have to wait at least a few months longer for their retirement to a sanctuary in California.
City councillors Michelle Berardinetti and Giorgio Mammoliti emerged from a two-hour meeting in the mayor's office Thursday to announce they will be accompanying senior zoo staff on a trip to the PAWS sanctuary as early as next week to try to settle the differences between the two facilities.
Toronto Zoo CEO John Tracogna said earlier this week that discussions to move Iringa, Toka and Thika to the sanctuary run by the Performing Animal Welfare Society were at "an impasse" because of the refusal of the California facility to share its animals' medical records. The charges followed allegations that zoo staff were willfully standing in the way of the move, ordered last fall by city councillors over the objection of zoo staff and the board of directors.
"We have all agreed that everybody needs to take a breather," Mr. Mammoliti said. "Questions need to be answered on all ends and until those questions are answered we will stay status quo." The two councillors and Mr. Tracogna were guarded in their responses to reporters, referring time and again to legal issues that still need to be resolved.
"There are some sticking points, but we will let the [lawyers]handle that for now," said Ms. Berardinetti, a champion of the move who has already made a trip to PAWS.
Mr. Tracogna said no deadline has been set for the transfer. "There is no end date on time because there are some missing pieces in the equation," he said.
The main issues, Ms. Berardinetti said, are quarantine protocols and requests by zoo staff for access to medical records of all animals who have been at the sanctuary in the past five years. It is highly unusual to make such a sweeping demand, Ms. Berardinetti said, and the agreement signed by both parties gives the zoo access only to the records of elephants at the sanctuary.
The future of Toronto's three elephants has been fraught with controversy. There is no disagreement that the trio of aging females would do better in a warmer climate, but the question is where they should be moved. 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.
The plight of the three elephants also has captured the attention of animal welfare advocate and former game show host Bob Barker, who has offered to pay the cost of moving the animals to California. Ms. Berardinetti confirmed Thursday that the offer still stands.
Asked if he and his staff support the move to PAWS, the zoo CEO said he is taking his lead from council. "I am committed to following the direction of council and our board," Mr. Tracogna said.
Mr. Tracogna said he has not been to the PAWS facility, but will go with the zoo's senior veterinarian – who was part of a trip made by five zoo staff late last year.
Both councillors said they would pay their own way to California. But Ms. Berardinetti said later the trip may not be required if the two sides can resolve their differences through discussions between lawyers.