On October 20, the remaining three female African elephants from Toronto Zoo, Canada, arrived at the PAWS Sanctuary near San Andreas (California) after a 70-hour-long journey across the continent. “Thika” (33 y.), “Toka” (43 y.) and “Iringa” (44 y.) made the trip without problems and went outside for the first time less than 24 hours after their arrival. Pictures of the elephants in their new home can be seen at https://www.facebook.com/pawsweb.org.
The move was conducted by a team of elephant experts under the leadership of Magaret Whittaker from Active Environments, who also consults with many zoos. Beside Scott Blais (co-founder of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee), elephant manager Jeff Kinzley and veterinarian Andrea Goodnight (both from Oakland Zoo), two zoo directors were part of the team: veterinarian Joel Parrot, CEO and President of Oakland Zoo, and Pat Lampi, former elephant keeper and CEO of the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage. Their participation is an impressive demonstration of support from an unexpected side, considering the open hostility against PAWS from the North American Zoo Association AZA, the Canadian Zoo Association CAZA and the Toronto Zoo itself during the last two years. Elephant keepers and zoo management of the Toronto Zoo alike opposed the decision of the Toronto City Council to move the elephants to PAWS, managed to delay the transfer by more than a year and tried to stop it right until the day the elephants finally left with the goal of either keeping the elephants in Toronto or to move them to the National Elephant Center in Florida, which is run by AZA zoos. The main arguments against PAWS were an alleged tuberculosis danger and the long travel time to California, which the Toronto staff and their supporters considered to be animal cruelty. However, travel times between 2 and 3 days during overland transports are not unusual, neither in North America nor in Europe. While such transfers are undoubtedly exhausting for elephants, they usually run smoothly, even when the elephants are older. For example, the female African elephant “Peaches” was already 51 and one of the oldest African elephants in North America when she and her herd mates “Wankie” and “Tatima” (both 34 y.o. at that time) were moved across the continent from San Diego to Chicago in 2003. All three made the transfer – like the Toronto elephants now – without problems (in contrary, the adjustment from life in sunny California to the long, cold winters in Chicago didn`t go so well). African elephant bull “Kibo”, who travelled in September 2013 from Boras in Sweden to Valencia in Spain and had to spend almost 60 hours within his crate, arrived in Spain in good condition too, even though the 36-year old elephant is not much younger than “Toka” and “Iringa”.
If the opinion of the Toronto elephant keepers that elephant´s transfers by road with long travel times are animal cruelty becomes accepted, severe consequences for North American Zoos and the elephant breeding programs would follow – however, it is possible that long transfers only will be considered as unacceptable and welfare relevant if the destination is a sanctuary…
The TV station CBC produced an interesting documentary about the move which is very worth seeing and can be watched here: http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/episodes/2013-2014/elephants-on-board-a-journey-to-remember. The heated discussion about the fate of Canadian elephants (not just from Toronto) is addressed in an earlier documentary from 2012, that can still be watched here: