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Toronto elephants arrive at San Andreas animal sanctuary

After traveling from the Toronto Zoo, elephants Iringa and Toka are let outside Monday afternoon at the Performing Animal Welfare Society’s ARK 2000 sanctuary in San Andreas. Mike Morris / Union Democrat, Copyright 2013.
Three African elephants from the Toronto Zoo are adjusting to their new lives in Calaveras County.

Iringa, Toka and Thika — ages 44, 43 and 33, respectively — will eventually share an 80-acre habitat with the Performing Animal Welfare Society’s other three African elephants, Mara, Maggie and Lulu.

The elephants left Toronto late Thursday and arrived at the San Andreas animal sanctuary on Sunday. A press conference held at the ARK 2000 sanctuary Monday included retired TV game show host Bob Barker, who paid $950,000 for the animals’ relocation. 

Barker, a longtime supporter of PAWS and former host of “The Price is Right,” cracked jokes throughout the event. However, his tone was serious when it came to concern for elephants.

“Elephants cannot be happy or healthy in a zoo,” he said, adding that PAWS is “truly a paradise for these magnificent animals.” 

Both Barker and Ed Stewart, co-founder and president of PAWS, made a plea to remove an elephant named Lucy from living alone at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, also in Canada. 

The transfer of the three Toronto elephants had been anticipated for the past two years. 

The Toronto Zoo decided to close its elephant exhibit for a variety of reasons, including the cost of building a new elephant facility. In October 2011, the Toronto City Council voted to send the elephants to PAWS.

Numerous delays since then included debate over how the pachyderms should be transported and whether PAWS is the best place for them.

“We don’t want to be in a fight with anybody,” Stewart said to a crowd of several reporters, including Canadian journalists. “We just want to do what’s best for the elephants.” 

PAWS, a nonprofit organization founded in 1984, also has five Asian elephants in addition to lions, tigers, bears and a black leopard named Alexander. 

Accompanying the elephants to California were the executive directors of zoos in Oakland and Alaska, along with other elephant experts. 

Jackie Gai, the veterinarian at PAWS, said the trio of elephants were excited to interact with the others once they arrived late Sunday. 

“They were trumpeting and just so excited,” she said. “It shook my bones — hearing the amazing sounds.”

Following Monday’s press conference, the elephants were brought out one at a time to munch on bamboo and adjust to their new home. 

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