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Toronto Zoo light on details of pending elephant transfer

Thika, one of the Toronto Zoo's three remaining elephants, walks around it's enclosure.

PAT HEWITT/THE CANADIAN PRESS/PAT HEWITT/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Toronto Zoo is not foot-dragging on a Council-imposed move of three aged elephants, staff made clear Monday morning, but they still can't offer specifics on when or how the beloved pachyderms will be California-bound.

Zoo staff provided an update on the elephants' status Tuesday morning, responding to mounting pressure from city councillors and zoo critics pressing to have the Toka, Thika and Iringa shipped to a California sanctuary before winter sets in.

That timeline now looks unlikely. Zoo CEO John Tracogna told reporters that, contrary to recent reports, the zoo was not impeding the move and had met an application deadline for a federal export permit. But Canadian and U.S. approvals could still take upwards of three months.

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Organizations such as Zoochek Canada have argued that the animals could be trained for the 3500-kilometre journey within a few weeks. Zoo staff accompanying Mr. Tracogna countered that the training process would take much longer.

"I think the elephants are going to let us know," said elephant keeper Chris Dulong, the Zoo's African Savannah supervisor.

Mr. Tracogna also attempted to dispel notions that the Zoo is not cooperating with the Performing Animal Welfare Society, the California group set to take ownership of the animals.

"I've had an excellent rapport with [PAWS founder]d Stewart," Mr. Tracogna said, adding that the zoo is sending a team to PAWS on Sunday to examine the California facility and share health information with local staff.

It remains unclear how the animals will be moved. PAWS staff first need to source three elephantine crates and ship them to trainers in Toronto. Then Zoocheck Canada, the organization funding the entire move, must decide whether a $100,000 truck trip or a $300,000 plane ride makes more sense.

"There are challenges to both," said Zoocheck campaigns director Julie Woodyer.

The California move, imposed by City Council in October, goes against advice from staff as well as a prior decision from the city's own Zoo Board, who raised concerns over PAWS' lack of certification.

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In recent weeks, zoo staff have taken to Facebook to criticize the move, writing disparaging comments about the city councillors involved. Mr. Tracogna said the online outbursts have prompted a review of the social media policies.

"As you all know this has been an emotionally charged issue for a number of months," he said. "We regret that some employees have posted some inappropriate remarks on personal Facebook pages."

The Zoo will offer a further update when its team returns from California on Dec. 22.

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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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