Shenga the elephant at Henry Doorly Zoo.jpg

Shenga, then the lone elephant at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, carries a tire on Nov. 21, 2010.

Shenga the elephant is thriving in a new home among old friends.

The 32-year-old African bush elephant left the Omaha zoo in 2011 for the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in Ohio. There, she was reunited with three others from her youth in the early 1980s.

Kallie, 32, Martika, 33, and Willy, 36, originally lived with Shenga in Florida at a large estate named “Jumbolair,” which housed around 100 elephants in 10 years of operation. Each of the four elephants shares roots in Zimbabwe and may have even been from the same herd.

Shenga relocated to Cleveland after losing her lone companion at the Henry Doorly Zoo, 47-year-old Maliaka, in 2010.

After seven years living on pachyderm hill, Shenga was the Omaha zoo’s last elephant. The Association of Zoos & Aquariums said elephants, who are known to be social animals, should not be kept alone or even with a group of less than three.

So the zoo searched for a new home for Shenga. After a few months, Shenga was transported by a specially equipped tractor-trailer to Cleveland.

Now, Shenga stays close to Martika and Kallie as well as Moshi, a new friend, on most days. For a couple hours each day, trainers let her intermingle with Willy, the bull elephant. At night, Shenga, Martika and Moshi sleep next to one another on sand piles, with Kallie not far off.

“She’s with them all the time,” said Andi Kornak, Director of Animal and Veterinary Programs for the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. “It’s a very cohesive group of females we have. She gets along really well.”

Shenga is with her old pals for the first time since 1986, when she left Florida for HollyWild Animal Park in South Carolina. She moved to Omaha in 2003.

Despite not having seen her buddies for almost 30 years, Shenga instantly recognized Martika when she arrived in Cleveland. When trainers moved her next to her new herd, she and Martika abandoned the typical cautious elephant introduction and embraced one another.

“It was immediate,” said Dan Houser, Curator of Large Mammals at Omaha’s zoo. “You could tell immediately that these two animals were reaching out to wrap trunks with each other.”

Shenga’s new home closely mimics her homeland in Zimbabwe. African Elephant Crossing, which opened in May 2011, is a $25 million, five-acre exhibit featuring three outdoor habitats and an indoor facility with soft substrate — a much closer real-world match than the concrete she once treaded on in Omaha’s zoo — and plenty of places to splash through water or wallow in mud.

Although Shenga is technically on a free loan to Cleveland, Houser said there’s “no way” she’ll return to Omaha when Phase 1 of the new African Grasslands exhibit is completed in 2016. Shenga has integrated with her new herd.

“Females are very much a herd that stays together,” he said, “and you just don’t break them up.”

Contact the writer: chris.peters@owh.com, 402-444-1734

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