How will the elephants benefit?
A safe, healthy future
The elephants will live in expansive new herd habitats unlike any seen before, offering the ability to establish multigenerational herds in stimulating environments that meet each elephant’s complex physical, mental and social needs.
The goal is to provide each elephant with everything it needs for multilevel enrichment and stimulation. Elephants at the new herd habitats lead a rich, complex life that includes making choices about how to spend their day, constant physical activity through foraging and play, ongoing mental stimulation to exercise their intelligence, and a social herd setting as they would experience in Africa.
A bold new approach
The innovative approach is informed by the latest science about elephant welfare, including a landmark 2013 study that assessed the health of all elephants at U.S. accredited zoos and identified opportunities to improve welfare for all elephants in professional care. Recommendations included establishing large herds, encouraging ongoing and active foraging and mental stimulation. Insights from these studies are informing how accredited zoos care for elephants through advanced care and innovative new habitats. For example:
- The first mixed-species habitat in the U.S. to combine African elephants with zebras, giraffes, impalas, ostriches and guinea fowl together, just as they would in Africa, at the Dallas Zoo. The habitat was designed with Dr. Charles Foley of the Tarangire Elephant Project, incorporating migration routes.
- The largest family room in North America where the herd can gather together, whenever they choose to socialize, at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium.
- More than five acres designed to keep elephants foraging and active throughout the day, including the world’s largest pool for elephants at 550,000 gallons, at Wichita’s Sedgwick County Zoo.
“Our goal is to provide the elephants with everything they need to enjoy their day. We can provide them with a rich, complex life that includes choices about how to spend their day, physical activity through foraging and play, mental stimulation and a social herd setting under the care of elephant experts.”
– Mark Reed, Sedgwick County Zoo
The Dallas Zoo’s award-winning Giants of the Savanna habitat, which opened in 2010, was designed with the input of Dr. Charles Foley of the Tarangire Elephant Project. It incorporates features specifically designed to create a natural environment, such as migration routes, soft substrates and multiple enrichment activities, from trees to strip to hidden, elevated food access. Radio-frequency tracking has shown that the Zoo’s five elephants walk as much as 11 miles per day. The Dallas Zoo operates under “protected contact,” utilizing only positive reinforcement. The Savanna is the first U.S. habitat to successfully combine African elephants with zebras, giraffes, impalas, ostriches and guinea fowl.
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium’s elephant habitat is a part of a $73 million expansion: African Grasslands. The herd room measures 11,600 square feet making it the largest in North America. Elephants can access three different outdoor areas each offering shade structures, sand and soil substrate and choices allowing the animals to spend their time indoors or out. The largest area spans more than three acres with mature trees, a 150,000 gallon pool, water features, mud wallows, and terrain changes. Behavioral training demonstrations and timed underground feeders encourage the elephants to move throughout their habitat while keepers constantly supply heavy browse and logs so the herd always has something new to discover.
Sedgwick County Zoo
In Wichita, Kansas, Sedgwick County Zoo’s habitat is the third-largest elephant habitat in the country. The new home encompasses a sprawling 5 acres of outdoor space, plus an 18,000-square-foot indoor facility. The new habitat features four yards, giving the elephants options for exploring and wandering. The indoor facility will be one of the premier holding buildings for elephants in the country. The state-of-the-art building is designed to hold a herd of up to nine elephants. The barn features a large public viewing area where the elephants will have access to holding yards for roaming with sand substrate flooring for the animals’ health and well-being.