07/24/2013 01:11 EDT | Updated 09/22/2013 05:12 EDT

Calgary zoo begins first phase of relocation of its four elephants

CALGARY - Officials with the Calgary Zoo say they have taken the first step in relocating their four elephants to other zoos.

They announced their male Asian elephant Ganesh will be moved to Busch Gardens in Florida later this year.

The elephant, who is nicknamed Spike, had been on an extended loan from the Miami Zoo after it was hit by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Calgary Zoo president Dr. Clement Lanthier says moving the elephants is based on the long-term welfare of the animals.

He says they will be "better served by being part of a larger social group and at a facility with more year-round space."

Animal rights activists including former "Price is Right" host Bob Barker have long pressed for Edmonton's Valley Zoo to relocate its lone elephant, Lucy.

They want Lucy to be moved to a sanctuary where she can be with other elephants and in a warmer climate.

Zoo officials in Edmonton have said that a move would be too stressful and could even be life-threatening for the elephant but have said that after she's gone, they will not house more elephants.

Officials at the Calgary Zoo said Busch Gardens was chosen for several reasons, including their work with and conservation efforts for Asian elephants.

They also said Busch Gardens' vice-president of zoological operations is Jeff Andrews, "one of the foremost experts on elephant care in North America (who) has worked with Spike before."

The zoo has said it hopes to keep their three female Asian elephants, Kamala, Swarna and Maharani, together as a family unit when they are relocated within the next four years.

The Calgary Zoo has also been struggling in the wake of extensive damage sustained during June flooding in the city.

It has had to find new homes for dozens of animals, has shut down several buildings and has laid off about 300 employees.