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Giant hopes elephants can hitch a ride with Air Force

Thika, one of the Toronto Zoo's three elephants that will be transported.

Pat Hewitt/The Canadian Press/Pat Hewitt/The Canadian Press

Canada's biggest zoo has an elephantine proposal for Canada's military.

It needs a way of shipping three elephants to California – and the Royal Canadian Air Force may be the solution.

"I've spoken to National Defence," said Julie Woodyer, campaigns director for Zoocheck Canada, a zoo watchdog group that's footing the bill for the 3,500-kilometre trip. "There are a few different options. If we go by air, maybe Minister [Peter]MacKay would offer Canada's transport. I don't know yet."

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Consider it a potential Canadian-made sequel to the 1995 Disney film Operation Dumbo Drop, in which U.S. soldiers fly an elephant to a Vietnamese village for a sacred ceremony. In the Canadian version, a Boeing C-17 would play a leading role along with three aged pachyderms – Toka, Thika and Iringa – together weighing more than a Bison armoured personnel carrier.

"When I was chatting with the guy from Defence, I told him it would be 30,000 pounds in three large crates and he looked at me like it was nothing," said Ms. Woodyer.

The C-17 has a payload of 160,000 pounds, or roughly 16 African elephants.

The unorthodox request has precedent. In 2007, the U.S. Air Force flew Maggie, a sick African elephant, from an Alaskan zoo to the Performing Animals Welfare Society sanctuary in California, the same facility Toronto's elephants are destined for. In that case, the society picked up the $200,000 bill.

City council voted in October to send the three animals to the California sanctuary out of cost and health concerns.

Ms. Woodyer has called several trucking firms and airlines asking for a quote on elephant transportation. Estimates for the four-day trucking haul have come back around $100,000. A private-sector flight would be three times that, she said.

A National Defence spokesman confirmed the conversation. The department is intrigued by Ms. Woodyer's pitch but won't work on it without political approval.

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"The organization [PAWS]would have to pay for the service," said Captain Denny Brown. "We would be competing with the private sector. We generally try not to do that unless there is a political request."

So far, no such request has been made.

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About the Author
National reporter

Patrick previously worked in the Globe's Winnipeg bureau, covering the Prairies and Nunavut, and at Toronto City Hall. He is a National Magazine Award recipient and author of the book Mountie In Mukluks. More

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