The three elephants being moved to the Performing Animal Welfare Society's sanctuary in San Andreas will travel from the Toronto Zoo aboard a private plane thanks to longtime animal activist Bob Barker. The announcement was made Friday.
The 88-year-old TV icon offered to fund the $880,000 flight after learning that one of the elephants wasn't well enough to withstand the long trip by truck, Barker spokesman Henri Bollinger said. Barker, a personal friend and public supporter of PAWS' founder Pat Derby, had previously offered to pay for the trip but was expecting to ferry the pachyderms by truck.
After some political wrangling, the Toronto Zoo agreed to move Thika, Iringa and Toka to PAWS, but that one of the animals suffers from a serious foot problem.
Barker said the elephants have endured so much for so long and now they have an opportunity to live the rest of their lives at what has been described as "elephant paradise." The PAWS property will provide them with a large terrain to roam, lakes to bathe in and barns equipped with heated stalls and therapeutic Jacuzzis.
"To think that one of them might not survive the trip in a truck touched my heart and purse strings," Barker said in a prepared statement.
The animals will travel in crates aboard a Russian cargo jet. It's not clear when the trip will happen, but Bollinger said it will be before May 15.
In December, Barker called Derby personally to tell her he would pay all of the costs of transport for the relocation of the elephants to ARK 2000, PAWS' 2,300-acre sanctuary in Calaveras County. PAWS is headquartered in Galt.
"Both Zoocheck Canada and PAWS were prepared to raise the funds because Mr. Barker is constantly the source of funding for relocation and rescue of animals, and we were disturbed that his generosity had generated unpleasant comments from disgruntled Toronto Zoo staff. We were trying to prevent further diatribes against a man who has devoted his life to helping animals and people," Derby said in a written statement last year.
Both charities will continue their campaigns to raise funds for lifetime care for the elephants once they arrive at PAWS.
To donate to the care of Toka, Thika and Iringa, contact PAWS at 209-745-2606 or mail donations to P.O. Box 849, Galt, CA 95632.
Barker, who hosted "The Price Is Right" for decades before retiring in 2008, is a longtime animal activist who closed the game show each day by reminding viewers to have their pets spayed or neutered. He has donated millions of dollars to various animal welfare efforts and lobbied Congress alongside Derby and the PAWS organization for a bill that would prevent circuses from using elephants.
The Toronto City Council voted in October to move the elephants following a campaign by animal rights activists, including Barker, who argued that Canada is too cold for the giant animals.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.