04/18/2012 12:28 EDT | Updated 06/18/2012 05:12 EDT

Toronto Zoo loses accreditation, partly over decision to ship elephants to U.S.

TORONTO - After more than three decades, the Toronto Zoo has been denied accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The zoo is still able to operate but has lost the approval of the association, a group of experts in animal management and care.

The group evaluates each zoo on a series of standards, including veterinary care, education programs, safety and governance.

One of its main concerns was a controversial decision to ship three of the zoo's elephants to a sanctuary in the United States.

The zoo's CEO John Tracogna says the key issue was governance and had nothing to do with its care of animals.

He said zoo officials are "disappointed" in the decision but will work to regain accreditation next year.

"We have been working diligently to create a stronger governance model that will enable us to effectively deliver upon the Zoo’s core mandates — those of public education, conservation, research, species preservation and regional tourism, while lessening the financial burden to the taxpayer," Tracogna said in a statement Wednesday.

Toronto city council voted in late October to send the three African elephants south to a facility in California with a warmer climate and more space after some groups voiced concern about the animals' welfare.

TV host Bob Barker, a longtime animal activist, offered to fund the $880,000 plane flight after learning one of the elephants had a foot problem and wasn't well enough to withstand a long trip by truck.

(The Canadian Press, AM640)