Three African elephants from the Toronto Zoo in Ontario, Canada, arrived safely at the Performing Animal Welfare Society’s ARK 2000 sanctuary in San Andreas at dusk on Sunday.
Their trip in crates loaded by crane onto flatbed trailers was funded by television host Bob Barker, who ardently advocated for the move. PAWS will assume the financial responsibility for the lifelong care of the elephants.
The elephants Toka, age 43, Thika, age 33, and Iringa, age 44, will eventually share an 80-acre natural habitat with the sanctuary’s three resident African elephants, Mara, Maggie and Lulu.
“We are very happy that Toka, Thika and Iringa are finally here,” PAWS president and co-founder Ed Stewart said. “PAWS looks forward to seeing these elephants make the transition from living in a zoo for most, if not all, of their lives, to exploring their expansive new home and meeting our resident African elephants. The elephants will receive excellent care from a dedicated staff as they settle into their new lives at our sanctuary.”
PAWS, based in Galt, now cares for 11 elephants at its 2,300-acre, natural habitat sanctuary that features grassy, rolling hills and fresh vegetation for natural foraging. The elephants have been relocated from circuses and zoos.
“This move has been a long time coming, but what matters is that the elephants are here,” said Barker, who was there to welcome the elephants along with United Activists for Animal Rights president Nancy Burnet. “I am so excited for Toka, Iringa and Thika. The PAWS sanctuary is a place where elephants can just be elephants. It truly is a paradise for these magnificent animals.”
The Toronto Zoo board voted in May 2011 to end the zoo’s elephant program and send the elephants to another facility. The decision was based on a recommendation made in a March 2011 report that cited the high cost of building a new elephant facility, among other issues.
In Oct. 2011, the Toronto City Council voted 31-4 to move the elephants to PAWS.
Founded in 1984, PAWS operates three sanctuaries for captive wildlife. Located in the cities of Galt, Herald and San Andreas, these sanctuaries are home to more than 100 rescued and retired animals, including African lions, bears, tigers and other exotic animals, in addition to the elephants.
PAWS is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. It is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, and is rated a 4-star charity with Charity Navigator.
News-Sentinel reporter Jennifer Bonnett contributed to this report.