RCAF asked to help move Toronto elephants, watchdog says

The Royal Canadian Air Force is considering a proposal to move three Toronto-based elephants to a new home in California, a national zoo watchdog said Thursday.
Iringa is one of three elephants at the Toronto Zoo. A national zoo watchdog says it has asked if the Royal Canadian Air Force will help move the elephants to a sanctuary in California. (Jo-Anne McArthur/Zoocheck Canada/PAWS/Associated Press)

The Royal Canadian Air Force is considering a proposal to move three Toronto-based elephants to a new home in California, a national zoo watchdog said Thursday.

Julie Woodyer, campaigns director with Zoocheck Canada, said she personally requested help from the military in order to ensure the pachyderms are relocated as soon as possible.

However, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Forces said Thursday that "no such request has been received."

"The Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces receive numerous requests each year for the use of military resources," Capt. Kendrah Allison said in an email.

City councillors voted last November to transfer the only three elephants still living at the Toronto Zoo to the Performing Animal Welfare Society sanctuary (PAWS) in San Andreas, Calif., by year's end.

The move has been delayed in part due to the logistics of transporting the three huge animals, Woodyer said, adding those challenges prompted her to get the air force involved.

"There is no commercial option that is fully pressurized and has the height of the door to accommodate the tallest crate, which is 10 feet eight inches," Woodyer said in a telephone interview. "This would be the ideal situation."

Thursday meeting

Woodyer said she attended a meeting with both zoo and air force officials on Thursday morning.

She said all parties seemed receptive to the idea of leaving the animals in military hands for the move, but said the decision would ultimately lie with Defence Minister Peter MacKay. A refusal would mean the elephants would have to travel by ground, she said.

Allison said Thursday's meeting was intended to assess and better understand the issues involved should a request be made for military help moving the elephants.

"A determination is made based on factors such as the impact on Canadian Armed Forces operations, the availability of personnel and equipment, and legal and financial issues, as well as the impact on competing commercial enterprises," Allison said.

Transportation logistics are the latest headaches to plague relocation efforts for the zoo's elephants. City and zoo officials originally clashed over where Toka, Thika and Iringa should be housed due to concerns about tuberculosis at PAWS.

City council accepted an independent infectious disease report from a specialist veterinarian which found that PAWS is a safe facility and meets the requirements of the due diligence process.

Woodyer dismissed concerns that the three Toronto elephants would be exposed to tuberculosis, saying the disease was confined to one animal that would not be coming into contact with any new additions.

"It's essentially akin to saying you wouldn't go to hospital with your child with a broken leg because there was somebody in another wing that had TB," she said. "It's ridiculous."

The tuberculosis issue did not come up at Thursday's meeting, she said.

Woodyer said the move to PAWS must take place some time within the next three months before temperatures become too hot for the elephants.

U.S. officials peg the relocation costs at up to US$1 million, but PAWS will not be on the hook for the cost. Animal rights activist and former "The Price is Right" host Bob Barker has vowed to pick up the tab.