KINGMAN, AZ – – Stephen Fritz of Kingman, Ariz., has moved “73 or 74” elephants in the past 27 years. Elephants, he says, are easy. It’s people that make things difficult.
Most recently, he trucked a bull named Spike from the Calgary Zoo to Busch Gardens, in Tampa. That four-day trip, in which Spike stood in a temperature-controlled crate with a closed-circuit camera inside, went without a hitch.
On his drawing board, Fritz has plans to move a female elephant named Mila from New Zealand to the U.S aboard a chartered plane.
During one of his elephant moves, a threat from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was taken so seriously that Fritz’s trucks were accompanied by 36 escort vehicles, some carrying FBI agents.
Fritz doesn’t advertise. His two elephant-hauling rigs have stainless-steel elephants on the mud flaps but other than that, Fritz doesn’t want to draw attention to his precious cargo.
It was his years of experience and success that inspired officials at the Toronto Zoo to ask him if he wants to move three elephants to California this fall.
The animal shipment was prompted more than two years ago when animal activist and TV game-show host Bob Barker agreed to foot the estimated $800,000 bill if Toronto’s elephants could be taken to a warmer climate. So it was determined that they belong in an animal sanctuary in California.
Fritz and his wife Phyllis came to Toronto to investigate the project.
Even though the money was there; and even though he had tons of experience and wasn’t afraid of facing down animal-rights people, Fritz said no.
“It’s not the people of Toronto; it’s not the zoo; it’s the way the whole thing came together.
“I took a look at that Toronto project and said ‘no thanks.’
He said he and Phyllis “loved the city; but he couldn’t tolerate the politics.
“There’s too much deceit,” he told todaystrucking.com
“I actually had two crates in Toronto to do that project but I pulled out. Then they wanted to rent my crates and I said ‘no’ because everybody wanted to manage the project. When I move the elephants, I want to be the manager.
“When you move an elephant, the elephants are the easy part. It’s the people that are hard to deal with,” Fritz said.
“I’ve never had an incident where an elephant had to be removed from the crate. The moves go real simple when everybody’s there to do their own professional job. And not somebody else’s.”
Since the Toronto elephant-moving project started, it has been in turns cancelled, delayed and then resurrected on several occasions because the people involved could not agree on how or when was best to move the animals.
Fritz says that at this time of year, it would be preferable to fly the elephants to California, because driving can be perilous in the fall, especially, he says, if you have to go through the “worst stretch of highway in the world, the Donner Pass” in California.
“When you’re going 2,000 or 3,000 miles you’re going to pass through some severe weather patterns.”
The Toronto project remained uncertain right up until noon on moving day as the administrators of the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) argued with representatives of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) over a PAWS demand that any Toronto zookeeper sign a non-disclosure agreement.
That negotiations continued and threatened to hold up the move even as the three elephants, Toka, Thika, and Iringa were being inspected by vets and prepped for loading on to the trucks. The animals were already in their crates. The crates would be dropped on to and then secured to flatbed trailers.
An agreement was finally reached around lunchtime.
Bell Cartage of Kitchener, ON., is the hauler.
Company VP Jason Bell said his father (and company founder) W.S. Bell read a news story about the Toronto zoo project and contacted the organizers to let them know he would be interested in supplying trucks, trailers and drivers.
Bell has extensive experience with dry van, flatbed and reefer service throughout North America but Bell admits this elephant trip will be the first of its kind for them.
The trip is expected to take about 60 hours and Bell’s trucks will be hauling two elephants on one step-deck trailer and a third on a separate double-drop trailer.
The cages are custom built; and teams of handlers including two veterinarians and three elephant trainers will follow the trucks.
The cages are temperature controlled and designed to have adequate ventilation and controlled temperature.
The trucks started loading their elephants Thursday, Oct.17 and were scheduled to hit the road later that day.
Watch todaystrucking.com for updates on the Bells’ elephantine project.
“Should be interesting,” Bell said.
Adds Fritz: “I hope everything goes well for them.”
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