SEATTLE (AP) -- Loaded in climate-controlled crates aboard a flatbed truck and accompanied by an entourage and special snacks, two aging female elephants have left a Seattle zoo on a 2,000-mile (3,200-kilomter) trip to their new home in Oklahoma City.
The Wednesday evening departure was emotional for both Woodland Park Zoo workers and for elephant activists after a federal appeals court declined to block the transfer.
"It was a difficult day for staff and volunteers, especially for those of us who have cared for these elephants for years," Seattle zoo spokeswoman Gigi Allianic said in an email. "We care for them deeply and love them. Yes, we're sad to see them go -- like sending your kids off to college and saying goodbye -- but we're doing the right thing for Bamboo and Chai. We are excited for them."
A panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied a motion by activists to stop the move to the Oklahoma City Zoo. Bamboo is 48; Chai is 36.
Zoo officials have said the elephants will be able to join a larger, multigenerational herd in Oklahoma City.
Activists have said the long trip could endanger the elephants' health and that their quality of life in Oklahoma would be worse than in Seattle. The trip was expected to take about 40 hours.
The legal action was part of the broader debate about whether housing elephants in zoos is humane, with critics arguing the large animals need more space than zoos can provide.
Alyne Fortgang, a co-founder of the Elephant Justice Project, joined other activists at the zoo when it was clear the move was imminent. Some of them wept.
Two months of crate training for the elephants helped the loading go smoothly, Allianic said. Food packed for the trip included 300 kilograms of hay, and supplies of watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew melon.