March 14, 2016 – Seventeen African elephants from drought-stricken Swaziland have found safe haven in the United States following a successful rescue mission late last week conducted by Dallas Zoo, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium and Sedgwick County Zoo in partnership with Big Game Parks in Swaziland.
“We are pleased that the elephants have arrived safely and we can provide them a safe, healthy future in the U.S.,” said Dennis Pate, executive director and CEO of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, adding that with intensifying drought and food resource problems, the conservation partners took decisive action and relocated the animals as quickly as possible.
The elephants came from two privately managed parks in Swaziland, where they had been removed due to overpopulation. Severe drought conditions in the region are creating a scarcity of food and increased competition for what little is left.
The drought is causing one of the most significant health threats to the people and wildlife in the region, and Swaziland has declared a national state of emergency. The United Nations is providing food assistance to more than 200,000 people in the country. The drought has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of animals already.
For several months, the zoos paid to bring in truckloads of hay from South Africa to feed the elephants and other animals in the parks; however, many animals – including 38,000 head of livestock – died in the severe conditions. As food supply became scarcer, it became increasingly urgent to relocate the elephants to homes where they could be well cared for.
The conservation partners transported the elephants after receiving an importation permit by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Swaziland wildlife authorities. The USFWS approved the permit after its scientifically rigorous analysis determined that the import met regulatory requirements under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
“There has been a lot of false, misleading information spread by activists about this rescue mission, but the permit to relocate these elephants is legal and was issued after an intense review and approval by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The zoos were legally entitled to transport the elephants, and we knew we needed to act without further delay because the situation in Swaziland is deteriorating,” said Gregg Hudson, president/CEO of the Dallas Zoo. “Here in Dallas, and in Omaha and Wichita as well, our communities can take pride in helping save these elephants from certain death and giving them a healthy future at our zoos.”
Each zoo created a habitat for the elephants that is informed by the latest scientific research about elephant welfare including a landmark 2013 study that assessed the health of elephants at all U.S. accredited zoos and identified opportunities to improve welfare for all elephants in professional care. Insights from these studies are informing how accredited zoos care for elephants.
The innovative design of these new state-of-the-art habitats will meet each elephant’s complex physical, mental and social needs in multigenerational herds. Five elephants are making their home in Dallas, and groups of six each are now in Wichita and Omaha.
Dallas Zoo is the first habitat in the U.S. to combine African elephants with zebras, giraffes, impalas, ostriches and guinea fowl together. Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium offers the largest herd room in North America where elephants can gather together whenever they choose to socialize while they engage with advanced enrichment opportunities. Sedgwick County Zoo offers 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.
“In addition to the well-being of these elephants, we are resolute in our commitment to Swaziland’s conservation efforts, and are continuing to contribute funds for food being trucked in for the animals living in the national parks that desperately need it,” said Hudson. “We have a long-term commitment to the conservation of elephants and critically endangered rhinos in Africa that are facing extreme threats to their survival from poaching, drought, loss of habitat and human conflict. We are proud of our ongoing conservation partnership with the people of Swaziland.”
“This project is about saving two important species in the world – elephants and rhinos. We are committed to doing all we can to protect these species and to make sure that they have a new comfortable life here after being saved from culling,” said Mark Reed, executive director of Sedgwick County Zoo. “They are being well-cared for and living in herds in our zoos, and they will inspire millions of people to help conserve wildlife.”
This is the second time that elephants have successfully transitioned from Swaziland parks to the U.S. In 2003, 11 elephants arrived from Swaziland and joined African elephants already at two U.S. AZA-accredited zoos as part of an earlier effort to manage the elephant population. Today those elephants are thriving. Each female has successfully delivered at least one calf, and all but one bull has sired, resulting in 14 births.
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About the Dallas Zoo: The Dallas Zoo, an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is operated by private, not-for-profit Dallas Zoo Management Inc. It is the largest zoological experience in Texas, featuring a 106-acre park and thousands of animals.
The zoo is committed to conservation and education, providing hundreds of educational experiences each year and partnering with groups worldwide to protect species. Its award-winning Giants of the Savanna is designed with elephant migration routes and is the only U.S. habitat where elephants mingle alongside giraffes, zebras and other African species. The zoo supports many international conservation projects for elephants, giraffe, cheetah, gorillas, horned lizards and more.
About Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium: Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, operated by the independent not-for-profit Omaha Zoological Society and accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), covers 112 developed acres and is located at Nebraska’s I-80 Exit 454. Its Bill and Berniece Grewcock Center for Conservation and Research focuses on six study areas to benefit animal husbandry and species conservation: education and technology transfer, conservation medicine, molecular genetics, reproductive physiology, horticulture and nutrition.
About Sedgwick County Zoo: The Sedgwick County Zoo, operated by the not-for-profit Sedgwick County Zoological Society, is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Sedgwick County Zoo, in Wichita, Kansas, recognized with national and international awards for its support of field conservation programs and successful breeding of rare and endangered species, covers 247 developed acres.