(ANIMAL WELFARE) TORONTO — Last year, Toronto’s city council agreed to transfer three elephants from the Toronto Zoo to the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in California. Despite funding courtesy of game show host and animal activist Bob Barker, the arrangements have hit a volley of roadblocks. Continue reading below to find out what the future holds for the elephants, and why relocation plans have been delayed. — Global Animal
The Toronto Star, Donovan Vincent
National Defence officials in Ottawa have given the thumbs down — for now at least — to providing a transport plane to fly three of the Toronto Zoo’s elephants to California, saying the earliest a move could happen would be the fall.
The statement, issued late Friday evening, came as disappointing news to Zoocheck Canada, the organization working to get the zoo’s three remaining elephants, Toka, Thika and Iringa, to the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary in California.
“It has been so frustrating, as we waited a full year while (Toronto) zoo staff stalled under the guise of due diligence, and now these further delays are not in the best interest of the animals,’’ said Julie Woodyer, a Zoocheck director.
Zoocheck, an animal rights organization, is working alongside PAWS to facilitate the move.
The organizations approached the defence department earlier this year to borrow a military transport plane for the move.
The zoo opposed the idea of the animals going to PAWS, in large part because the sanctuary isn’t accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
The zoo also has concerns about how PAWS has managed tuberculosis among Asian elephants at the sanctuary, but PAWS and Zoocheck say the matter is under control, and Toronto’s African elephants won’t come into contact with the illness.
The zoo was forced to go along with the move to PAWS after Toronto city council voted twice to have the animals sent there.
The zoo has handed over responsibility of shipping its elephants to Zoocheck, which is why the organization turned to the Canadian military a few months ago. Former Price is Right game show host and animal advocate Bob Barker is financing the move.
But there was a time factor: It isn’t safe to move the pachyderms in hot weather, and the latest they could go was mid- to late June, Zoocheck said.
In its statement Friday, National Defence said, “We have been unable to resolve issues to allow for their move before the summer weather.
“We will continue negotiations with the City of Toronto but the earliest they could move would be the fall. These are discussions only, and no final decision has been made,’’ the statement continues.
National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces receive “numerous requests’’ each year for the use of their military resources, the statement reads, adding that decisions are based on factors such as the impact on their operations, the availability of those resources, legal and financial issues, and the ability of private businesses to offer a similar service.
Woodyer said the defence department wanted Zoocheck to insure the plane, which she called “unrealistic’’ for her group.
She said her group will look at “plan B’’ — transporting the animals by truck — if the defence department is “unable or unwilling to help’’ in the end.
While waiting for word on when the elephants will be shipped out, Toronto Zoo staff continue to train them to go in and out of their large crates.