Toronto councillors, not elephants, heading to California

The fight continues over whether to send three elephants from the Toronto Zoo to an animal sanctuary in California. But instead of the elephants heading south, two city councillors and three zoo members are making the trip.

Impasse over where to send elephants

The fight over where to send three elephants that currently reside at the Toronto Zoo is still a long way from being resolved.

Last year Toronto city council voted to send the aging elephants to an animal sanctuary in California, against the wishes of zoo staff.

Since then the issue has remained at an impasse — even though former game show host Bob Barker offered to foot the bill, estimated at $880,000.

On Thursday, a meeting between city councillors and zoo management appeared to solve nothing.

Coun. Giorgio Mammoliti and Coun. Michelle Berardinetti emerged from the meeting to say they would be flying to the Performing Animals Wildlife Sanctuary (PAWS) in the next few weeks, accompanied by zoo CEO John Tracogna and two zoo employees to discuss the transfer and obtain records.

Mammoliti and Berardinetti said they'll pay their own airfares. Travel for the zoo members will be covered by the zoo's budget.

The focus of the trip is not entirely clear.

"There's a lot of things that are on the table that we cannot discuss because of legal matters," said Mammoliti. "It is important for a lot of reasons for us to go down [to California] and take a look at the facility and try and get some of those questions answered."

The questions are about the future health and safety of Toka, Thika and Iringa, if they should make the move to California.  Zoo staff recommended they be sent to another zoo. And recently the Association of Zoos and Aquariums pulled the Toronto Zoo's accreditation because it doesn't approve of sending animals to non-accredited facilities.

It remains unclear whether the trip to the U.S. sanctuary will resolve the issues.

Tracogna was asked by reporters if the zoo was committed to sending the elephants to PAWS but avoided answering directly.

"We've [the Toronto zoo board] been following council and board direction since that was brought forward — and with that comes a set of conditions as part of due diligence — and that's what we discussed in the meeting and that's before the respective lawyers."