Transfer of 3 Toronto Zoo elephants postponed again

Officials at the Toronto Zoo say there are still sticking points in a plan to move three African elephants to a California sanctuary.

Zoo officials have concerns about health, transport of Thika, Toka and Iringa

The three elephants at the Toronto Zoo are supposed to be transferred to a California sanctuary, but the process has been postponed again. (CBC)

Officials at the Toronto Zoo say there are still sticking points in a plan to move three African elephants to a California sanctuary.

John Tracogna, the zoo’s chief executive officer, says issues with permits, flight arrangements, crate training and the risk of infectious disease at the PAWS facility are holding up the move indefinitely.

Wrangling between the zoo, PAWS and the city over the elephants' transfer has already caused several delays.

On Tuesday, Tracogna told reporters that there are still "several outstanding items to complete the transaction," including the specific plan to move the elephants south of the border.

While both PAWS and the zoo had long agreed that the elephants need to be put on a plane, they have yet to agree on the details of that process.

Tracogna said a previous plan was scuttled after PAWS acknowledged that the plane it had arranged to move the elephants did not have a cargo area sufficiently pressurized to carry the animals and their support staff.

"To date, we still do not have a transportation plan from PAWS," said Tracogna.

Planning for the move resumed this summer after the California sanctuary turned over medical records on all its wildlife, but Tracogna says questions about conditions there remain.

"Our repeated requests for outstanding records of health have not been answered in a sufficient and professional manner," said Tracogna.

Tuberculosis threat?

Graham Crawshaw, the zoo’s chief veterinarian, said that animals at PAWS have died of tuberculosis in the past year and a half and Toronto officials want to know how their own elephants would be protected from infection.

"We certainly do not wish to put our animals at risk of developing a significant infectious disease," Crawshaw said Tuesday.

Toronto City Council voted last fall to send the three elephants to the U.S. facility after groups voiced concern about the animals' welfare.

Animal activist Bob Barker has promised to pay $880,000 for a plane to fly the elephants to their new home.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, Barker accused the zoo of stalling the transfer process.

"I think it’s utterly disgusting, I think it’s contemptible," Barker told CBC News in a telephone interview.

Controversy over the elephants' fate has added strain to the Toronto Zoo.

It was denied accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums this spring for the first time in 30 years, partly due to the decision to move Iringa, Toka and Thika to the PAWS sanctuary.

Tracogna has said the key issue in that decision was governance and had nothing to do with its care of animals.

With files from The Canadian Press