Toronto city council voted late Tuesday to send its three elephants to a sanctuary in California.

The motion was backed by Coun. Michelle Berardinetti, who feared the elephants would be moved to another enclosed space instead of the sanctuary, which she said has more than 30 hectares of roaming space. The motion passed by a 31-4 vote.

Earlier this year, the zoo's staff recommended the city phase out its elephant program.

The Toronto Zoo’s board of management opposes the decision, but Berardinetti told CBC News it was necessary because negotiations were underway to send the elephants to another zoo, where she said they wouldn’t be as well cared for.

"That’s why it’s deemed urgent," she said. "We as a council, under the City of Toronto Act, have the right to send these elephants to a sanctuary."

Coun. Paul Ainslie said the motion amounts to fear-mongering, and said that accredited zoos can provide proper care for the elephants.

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"If we’re going to start directing our [zoo], which has a properly directed board with a mandate to manage the zoo, why have a board of directors at the zoo? Why not just let the city of Toronto look after it? It’s a very dangerous way to be looking after a city, let alone animals in a zoo."

The three elephants — Toka, Thika and Iringa — are expected to be moved next summer.