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Toronto elephants headed to foothills

A trio of Toronto Zoo elephants appear to be one step closer to relocating to San Andreas after months of dispute.

The Toronto City Council voted 32-8 Tuesday to approve the transfer of African elephants Iringa, 42, Toka, 41, and Thika, 31, to the Performing Animal Welfare Society ARK 2000 sanctuary.


The move, which will be funded by a pledge from PAWS supporter and retired television game show host Bob Barker to cover costs that could reach $1 million, had been put off due to unusually hot weather last summer in Toronto.

As summer wound down, another hurdle arrived when the Toronto Star newspaper reported the U.S. Department of Agriculture determined two elephants that died in recent years at PAWS, Rebecca, a 50-year-old Asian elephant, and Sabu, an Asian male, tested positive for tuberculosis, as did Annie, a 52-year-old Asian elephant, who has remained in quarantine for more than three years.

The council accepted an independent infectious disease report from Drs. Susan Cork and David Abraham which found that PAWS is a safe place for the animals.

PAWS spokeswoman Kim Gardner said the nonprofit organization is not giving formal interviews on the matter. She did write in an email that Abraham and Cork’s report had been “glowing,” and provided a copy of the document.

“The elephants observed during the visit, including the quarantined group, are in good health and had access to large outdoor enclosures and spacious naturally ventilated barns,” the report stated. “The elephants at PAWS have come from a number of different facilities across the USA and may have been exposed to tuberculosis from other elephants, other animal species, humans or environmental sources prior to arrival at the PAWS facility. This is a situation that is common to the many facilities, including many zoological gardens, currently holding elephants in North America.”

The organization has also posted a facts sheet produced by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Chairman of Veterinary Services and Director of Research Dr. Dennis Schmitt, on tuberculosis in elephants to its website at www.pawsweb.org, as well as a statement from its own veterinarian, Jackie Gai.

“Our African elephants, as well as Nicholas the Asian bull, are housed separately from the quarantine area, and these elephants have consistently tested negative for tuberculosis,” Gai wrote. “PAWS consistently meets or exceeds industry standards for disease testing and biosecurity. We work closely with State and local Departments of Public Health, the California Department of Fish and Game, and the United States Department of Agriculture to ensure that our protocols are sound.”

The Toronto Zoo is closing its elephant exhibit after four pachyderms died there between 2006 and 2009.

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