France's death row elephants to get royal treatment

LYON (AFP) - They once faced imminent death but have now been offered princely accommodation - two French zoo elephants who had been ordered put down are moving to a ranch belonging to Monaco's ruling Grimaldi family.

Baby, 42, and Nepal, 43, had faced an execution order since last year over a suspected tuberculosis infection deemed a threat to the health of other animals and visitors to the Tete d'Or zoo in the southeastern city of Lyon.

But after a nationwide outcry - spearheaded by animal rights defender and ex-cinema icon Brigitte Bardot - and a string of temporary reprieves, France lifted the threat of execution in February.

Mr Jean-Francois Carenco, prefect of the Rhone region where Lyon is located, told reporters he had met Princess Stephanie of Monaco last month, who had promised him she would take care of the two elephants.

They will move in the next two to three months, he said.

"If they leave me with the elephants, I will have to kill them, not by pleasure but because it is my responsibility," he added, believing them ill.

Baby and Nepal will move to the Grimaldi family's property Roc Agel in the Alpes Maritimes, the French department that neighbours Italy in the southeast.

Animal rights activists have maintained there is no certainty that they were definitely infected by TB and new tests have been ordered.