Longtime Reid Park Zoo residents Connie and Shaba are officially on their way to the San Diego Zoo.
The elephants were being moved out this morning.
Their trip is anticipated to take about 10 hours and the elephants will have an escort by the state highway patrol.
Their exodus brings to a point a highly-public dispute over the zoo’s earlier plans to separate the elephants by sending Connie, the Asian elephant, to San Diego, and keeping the African elephant Shaba at Reid Park. With zoos frowning on the mingling of species, Shaba would have stayed to join a breeding herd of African elephants coming to Tucson’s new elephant exhibit, while Connie would have joined other Asian elephants in San Diego.
The mayor negotiated a deal last month, however, with San Diego to take both elephants.
The elephants will spend 30 days in quarantine before mingling with the existing San Diego elephants.
Two elephant trainers, who retired recently from the zoo, are following Connie and Shaba to California, and have committed to staying as long as necessary until the elephants have settled in and are ready to respond to their new surroundings.
San Diego trainers spent time in Tucson to make sure they could adhere to the same routines and training words to smooth the transition.
Given the controversy surrounding the elephants, zoo spokeswoman Vivian VanPeenen said the zoo opted not to have a goodbye celebration to make sure the exodus was orderly and as least disruptive as possible.
The zoo hasn’t been hiding the fact the elephants are going, with crate training very public, VanPeenen said. “We talk to guests every day about it, and tell them now is their chance to say goodbye.”
A male and female elephant from San Diego arrived in Tucson over the weekend. Another female and her two male offspring will come in coming weeks.
The San Diego exhibit is designed to work well for aging elephants, including soft floors, heating and cooling units and a medical facility.