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Toronto zoo board debates mode of transport for moving elephants to sanctuary

Toka , a 42 year old African elephant, is photographed on May 1, 2012, at the Metro Toronto Zoo getting accustomed to the container that will be used to send her to another facility.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Operation Dumbo Drop could become Operation Dumbo Drive.

Toronto's zoo board met Thursday at city hall and discussed a plan to transport three elephants to a California sanctuary by ground.

The zoo and the Performing Animals Welfare Society sanctuary have been in talks with the Department of National Defence about transporting the elephants by military plane. The operation would be financed by former game-show host Bob Barker. But the department said in late May that it could not move the animals until at least the fall and stressed no decision had been made.

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John Tracogna, the zoo's chief executive officer, told the board he has received a plan that could see the elephants moved in trucks by mid-October.

Mr. Tracogna stressed that the plan, prepared by Active Environments, an animal management and animal training specialty company, was preliminary and must be studied.

He said that if the elephants are moved by ground they could be on the trucks for at least three to five days.

"We've got to go through the various aspects to see if it's acceptable or if there's any issues with it. It's sort of a two-way dialogue," he told reporters after the meeting.

Mr. Tracogna said there would be risks associated with moving the animals by ground, just as there would with any other form of transportation. He said the animals have not moved from their location for more than three decades and factors that will have to be considered include noise, vibrations, and temperature.

Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, a member of the board, said he supports the plan. He said that while the aircraft would be faster, ground travel could be safer if the animals panic.

Councillor Gloria Lindsay Luby, however, did not think such a move would be in the best interest of the animals.

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"I think it would be a very difficult thing for those poor elephants," she said, referring to the amount of time the animals would have to spend on the vehicles.

Ms. Lindsay Luby has said she opposes moving the elephants at all.

Christine McKenzie, president of CUPE Local 1600, which represents hundreds of workers at the zoo, also shot down the plan.

"I know a lot of people are tired of hearing about it now, they think just get them out of here, but we're talking about their lives and their safety and I think that if we're going to do this we do it right and the right way to do it is to send them by air," she said.

City council voted, in 2011, to send the three elephants – Toka, Thika, and Iringa – to the sanctuary. Councillors said it was cruel to keep the small group of aging elephants in Toronto's harsh climate.

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