It was a big year for the Toronto Zoo with the controversial departure of the three elephants and arrival of two pandas, but as 2013 winds to a close the zoo is looking toward the future and its 40 birthday.

The Toronto Zoo will turn 40 in August, celebrating four decades of showcasing exotic animals to the Canadian public.

This year the zoo made headlines many times regarding the constant battle over the three African elephants:  Toka, Thika and Iringa.

The tale of the three pachyderms is a long one.

In more recent years the dwindling number of elephants at the zoo inspired an argument to  move them to another locations.

John Tracogna, the zoo’s chief executive officer, issued a report two years ago to the board of management recommending that the zoo "phase out" its elephant program, citing expenses and the possibility of losing accreditation if another elephant died.


Two pandas on loan from China were fan favourites this past year.

So, in May of 2011, 37 years after the first elephants made their home at the Toronto zoo, a vote concluded the three remaining elephants would find a new home.

The elephants received a lot of attention, including public pressure from Bob Barker — retired game show host and animal rights advocate —  to see them live the rest of their days somewhere warmer.

Councillors voted and in October 2011 and after several delays it was finally decided the elephants would be relocated to the PAWS sanctuary in California — where they remain.

Circle of life

But it wasn’t all goodbyes at the zoo in 2013, this year also marked the arrival of the two giant pandas, Er Shun and Da Mao, on loan from China for the next five years.

The duo were met by thousands of Canadian fans when they flew into town last year

News of the pandas was looked at politically as well, as a sign that ties between the two countries are getting stronger.

The space for the pandas also include a nursery, as there is hope the pair will reproduce — something, which up until now, has proven quite difficult.

In the year to come there will be more —  new animals to meet at the zoo.  Zoo Keeper Lynda Bongelli says one of the new additions is a recently born polar bear — who is finally getting big enough to be introduced to the public.

"When they're first born they... fit into the palm of your hand almost and so basically, for the first quite a few weeks, you're just bottle feeding and then once they get a little more active, like around now, he's starting to learn how to walk and he's pushing up on his hind legs and he's wobbly and everything," Bongelli said. 

A baby giraffe and zebra will also be unveiled to to the public and it’s hoped that two baby wood bison will be born.