POLITICS

Toronto delegation headed to California to check out PAWS facility for elephants

05/03/2012 04:02 EDT | Updated 07/03/2012 05:12 EDT
TORONTO - A Toronto delegation is heading to California to check out the sanctuary that is supposed to be taking in the Toronto Zoo's aging elephants.

Zoo CEO John Tracogna will be making the trip to the PAWS facility within the next two weeks, along with two city councillors and a senior veterinarian from the zoo.

The visit was announced after a meeting at Toronto City Hall on Thursday failed to resolve ongoing wrangling between the zoo, the city and PAWS officials over the transfer of the three elephants.

The zoo said earlier this week it had reached an impasse with the sanctuary over its failure to provide requested medical records on all wildlife at PAWS.

But Tracogna said talks are continuing between lawyers for both sides and he will follow the direction of city council in moving the animals.

Council voted in late October to send the three elephants to the U.S. facility after groups voiced concern about the animals' welfare.

Giorgio Mammoliti, one of the city councillors who will be going on the trip, called it a "wonderful step forward" and a chance to get some questions answered.

Politics should be put aside, he said, adding that the safety and well-being of the elephants is the most important priority.

Coun. Michelle Berardinetti, who will also make the trip and supports the transfer, said there are still some legal "sticking points" that must be worked through.

She said an offer from animal activist Bob Barker to pay $880,000 for a plane to fly the elephants to their new home is still on the table.

As for whether flying the three elephants is the best way to move them, Tracogna said it is the preferred option.

"There's always a risk putting elephants that have never left the zoo into containers and flying them," said Tracogna.

But he said a flight would take less than 24 hours, while a move by land would take four or five days.

"I don't mind getting on the back of one of them and actually going myself," Mammoliti joked.

Julie Woodyer of Zoocheck Canada, who is PAWS representative in Toronto, called the delays in moving the elephants a "smoke and mirrors campaign" by a small group of local zookeepers and their friends.

"You don’t resist going to the hospital to have your baby because there is someone in the next wing with a contagious disease," she said, adding the northern California facility is perfectly safe.

The elephant issue has proved a difficult one for the Toronto Zoo. Earlier this month, the zoo was denied accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums 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.