Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium, with federal approval of its import permit, has cleared one of its last hurdles to bringing pachyderms to Omaha.

Midlanders who care about the success of Nebraska's top tourist attraction are understandably excited. The last elephants left town in 2011.

Omaha's zoo, along with zoos in Dallas and Wichita, Kansas, agreed to house and care for 18 African elephants that were about to be culled in Swaziland to save other animals' food and water. The three zoos also agreed to donate to black rhino and big game preservation.

But now the elephant exchange is on hold: Friends of Animals filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated federal law by not studying the elephants' emotional and physical well-being before granting an import permit.

Many activists disagree with displaying elephants in zoos and would prefer they stay in their natural habit, regardless of the dangers. That's short-sighted when it comes to modern, caring zoos such as those involved in the current effort.

These elephants aren't bound for small cages and poor living conditions. Omaha's six elephants will live at a world-class facility designed to replicate the feel and surroundings of home.

The 28-acre, $73 million African Grasslands exhibit includes the nation's largest indoor herd room. The elephant families would stay together, with room to roam outdoors in one of the largest elephant exhibits in North America.

Omaha's zoo and its partners make scientific efforts to breed, grow and replace threatened plants and animals and restore them to their wild places.

That's why the zoos agreed to donate $650,000 for remaining animals in Swaziland's big game parks and $450,000 for black rhino preservation.

As zoo CEO Dennis Pate explained: "No. 1, you save elephants from being culled in Swaziland. No. 2, we get to help rhinos at the same time. And No. 3, we strengthen the genetic pool of elephants in North America and make them more sustainable. Of course, the fourth thing is that people in Omaha get to see live elephants, be inspired by them and hopefully take action because they're here."

Let's hope this lawsuit is speedily resolved. If any of the elephants die while waiting, animal rights activists can blame themselves.

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