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Zoo chief says plan to move elephants at 'an impasse'

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

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

Plans to retire the city's trio of aging elephants to a California home have reached "an impasse," says the head of the Toronto Zoo because the PAWS sanctuary has not handed over the medical records of the other elephants in its care.

That news, released late Monday in a statement from zoo chief executive John Tracogna, follows accusations from advocates of the move that zoo staff have willfully been standing in its way.

"Obviously, we are disappointed that the health information that we require is not being made available," Mr. Tracogna said in the statement. "We remain steadfast in our repeated requests for the medical records. It is entirely irresponsible to move members of our family to another home without proof of operations and medical history."

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Zoo staff felt compelled to issue the statement "to respond to spurious allegations made by ill-intentioned sources," the release said.

The future of Toronto's three elephants – Iringa, Toka and Thika – has been fraught with finger-pointing from both sides in the debate. No one disputes that the three aging females would be better off in a warmer climate, but just where to send them is the subject of a long and controversial debate. Last fall, city councillors took the unusual step of becoming directly involved in that decision, ordering staff to send the trio to the sanctuary run by the Performing Animal Welfare Society and over-riding a previous decision of the zoo board.

The involvement of council in the elephants' future led last month to the loss of the zoo's accreditation with one of the sector's major governing bodies. Staff and the board recommended sending the elephants to a facility accredited The Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the PAWS facility does not have that accreditation.

Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, who put forward the motion at council to move the elephants, accused zoo staff Monday of unnecessary delaying the training and preparation of the animals for transfer in direct defiance of council's direction.

"It's complete insubordination," said Ms. Berardinetti, who travelled to California to see first-hand the PAWS facilities.

In the statement Monday, Mr. Tracogna described the PAWS facility as having "many redeeming qualities."

"We are fully prepared to move the elephants under conditions that ensure the health of the elephants involved," he is quoted as saying. "However, our respect for the due diligence process – one that is legally defined for all parties – requires that we act in specific ways. As directed by Toronto City Council, the Toronto Zoo must ensure that the transfer of the elephants is completed in accordance with all applicable legislation and the standards of our profession."

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