After long delays, the Toronto Zoo’s elephants Toka, Thika and Iringa finally embarked on their 50-hour journey south on Thursday night.

The elephants, which had been parked in their crates for hours, began their road trip to their new home at a California animal sanctuary at around 10:30 p.m. – on a voyage zookeepers said could be risky for the aging pachyderms.

Canadian Food Inspection Agency arrived on site Thursday morning to enforce the animal health act before the elephants’ original scheduled departure time of 2 p.m.

Earlier preparations for the move saw the three elephants coaxed into large crates. Two cranes were used to lift the two-by-four-metre boxes onto flatbed trailers. The trip is expected to take more than two days.

"A lot of (the staff members) are really heartbroken today," Christine McKenzie, president of the zoo workers' union, CUPE Local 1600, told reporters on Thursday. "I'm just here to be a support to them but I'm extremely concerned that this isn't going to go well and we are all really hoping that it is. Things are really tense in there."

She said many of the zookeepers felt that the elephants were like their "own kids."

"Two of these animals have been here for over four decades. We brought them out of the wild here and gave them a promise that we would give them the best life from beginning to end."

Bob Barker, animal rights activist and former host of “The Price is Right,” told CTV News Channel that the elephants’ lives are going to be “improved more than they can possibly believe or hope.”

Barker sent a $700,000 cheque to pay for the transfer of the three elephants.

“The zookeepers are not very worried about the elephants or they would never have behaved the way they had over all of these months trying to keep the elephants there in the zoo where they are utterly miserable,” Barker said

“The elephants are going to have lives at this PAWS sanctuary that will be the nearest possible thing to their natural habitat,” he added.

Barker said the elephants will have more room to roam in their new California home. “They can walk and walk and walk. Elephants in the wild sometimes walk as much as 50 miles in a day. They can walk 50 miles if they want to.”

Toronto city council voted in 2011 to send the three elephants to the Performing Animal Welfare Society in Galt, Calif., near Sacramento. The decision was made after years of pressure from animal rights activists who say that Toronto's climate is too cold for the elephants.

The move has been delayed a number of times as officials debated on how to transport the pachyderms. A proposal to ship the elephants by plane was discussed earlier this year but officials opted to instead move them by truck.

Active Environments, the California-based company hired to move the elephants, will be allowing two zookeepers to accompany the elephants on their trip. Multiple stops will be made along the way to clean, feed and water the elephants.

For months, zoo workers have been training the three elephants to enter their crates. But despite the training, zookeepers say they are still concerned the trip will be stressful for the pachyderms. They say the elephants have only been inside the crates for approximately an hour at a time during the training process.

With a report from CTV Toronto's Zuraidah Alman