Three African elephants that once resided at the Toronto Zoo are spending their first full day at their new home at a sanctuary in California.

The elephants – Iringa, Thika and Toka – travelled extremely well, ate quite regularly and were very calm during the three-day, 4,200-kilometre road trip to a Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary in San Andreas, Calif., said Toronto Zoo officials.

Zoo handlers were part of the convoy that transported the elephants across the continent and they were present when the animals were unloaded from their steel crates Sunday night.

“All we ever wanted for them was to ensure that they were healthy and they were safely transported to their destination, and we want them to continue to be safe and healthy,” said zoo spokeswoman Jennifer Tracey. “Even the individual who was responsible for transporting them said that they were probably the most relaxed elephants she had ever transported in her career, and that is a true testament to the work that our keepers did preparing the elephants for this journey.”

Once they settle in, Iringa, 44, Thika, 33, and Toka, 43, will share a 32-hectare (80-acre) natural habitat with three resident African elephants named Lulu, Maggie and Mara.

“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,” said PAWS president and co-founder Ed Stewart in a written statement. “The elephants will receive excellent care from a dedicated staff, as they settle into their new lives at our sanctuary.”

PAWS is covering the costs associated with “lifelong care” for the elephants.

The journey itself was paid for by animal rights activist and retired “The Price is Right” game show host Bob Barker, who lobbied for the animals to be moved to PAWS’ ARK 2000 sanctuary.

Barker criticizes zoo

Barker had harsh words for the Toronto Zoo as he welcomed the elephants at the sanctuary Sunday. Barker accused zoo officials of obstructing the transfer process.

“I have never met with so much acrimony as we did in Toronto, and why I don’t know,” Barker said. “We convinced the city council that the elephants should be moved to PAWS. Zoos are no place for elephants. The finest zoos in the country are in the process of closing their elephant exhibits or have already closed.”

In response to Barker’s comments, Tracey denied claims that the zoo obstructed the transfer and said handlers have been nothing but committed to the elephants’ well-being.

“Toronto staff have been nothing but absolutely dedicated to these animals over the years, they have been very passionate, they have been very committed,” Tracey told CP24 on Monday. “Everybody (at the zoo) is so committed to ensuring the safety and welfare of all the animals on site, so it is very disheartening those comments from him.”

The move follows years of debate that divided city council and disappointed zoo workers, who voiced concerns about the PAWS sanctuary.

In 2011, the Toronto Zoo board voted to end the elephant program and send the three remaining elephants to an accredited zoo instead of a sanctuary, leaving the final decision with city council.

A few months later, council voted to relocate the elephants to a warmer climate and larger space at PAWS as activists complained that the animals were suffering in Toronto’s cold weather and in an enclosure with a concrete floor.

The Toronto Zoo’s now-vacant elephant enclosure is part of its African Savanna exhibit, and it will likely be converted into an enclosure for an animal or animals from that region, Tracey said.

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