Toronto elephants depart for new home in U.S.

The Toronto Zoo’s elephants have departed for their new home in California, hitting the road around 10 p.m. after a day of snags, and CBC is along for the ride.

Thika, Toka and Iringa heading to California sanctuary, with CBC along for the ride

African elephants have lived at the zoo since it first opened in 1974. (CBC)

The Toronto Zoo’s elephants have departed for their new home in California, hitting the road around 10 p.m. after a day of snags.

The three animals were loaded into the crates they are riding in earlier during the day on Thursday, but sat there for hours due to a mixup.

CBC's the fifth estate obtained exclusive access to the elephants on their ride to the PAWS Wildlife Sanctuary in San Andreas, Calif., and will be sending live updates throughout the trip.

The fate of Thika, Toka and Iringa was up in the air for much of the past 2½ years.

In 2011, the decision was made to "phase out" the zoo’s elephant program, though a series of ongoing squabbles involving zoo staff, city councillors and animal advocates delayed their departure.

In the end, it was decided to move the elephants to a new home in a warmer climate.

Thika, seen in this photo included in a recent Toronto Zoo press release, is one of the three elephants heading to California. (Toronto Zoo)

For more than a year, trainers worked with the elephants to prepare them for their move, so that the pachyderms would feel comfortable in their crates when being transported.

The president of the union representing zoo workers told reporters on Thursday that the elephants were successfully moved into their crates.

In the morning, it was also announced that a deal was reached to allow a pair of zookeepers to accompany the elephants to California.

But as of 5 p.m. on Thursday, the elephants had yet to be moved onto the trucks taking them south.

The CBC’s Aarti Pole reported that "a misunderstanding" between the groups moving the elephants and the zoo held up the process by five hours on Thursday.

Zoocheck Canada, a national watchdog group, said that a call by zoo management to have an inspection done by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency was a last-ditch effort to try to keep the elephants in Toronto.

But the zoo said the CFIA inspection was always going to happen, is proper procedure and should not have been a surprise.

Elephants have been a part of the zoo since it first opened in 1974.

But over time, the elephants’ numbers dwindled to the point where just three remained. Those are the same three elephants scheduled to be heading south on Thursday.

With files from the CBC’s Trevor Dunn and Aarti Pole


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