One year ago a group of African elephants made the journey to three zoos in the United States. Six of the elephants came to the Henry Doorly Z…
In spring 2014, keepers began training animals to move to permanent new homes, temporary homes out at the zoo’s safari park in Ashland or just to new homes within the zoo. It was a delicate process that wrapped up just a few months ago, after the opening of the 28-acre exhibit this spring.
Several species — zebras, male impalas, meerkats and two types of birds — have been held back because of construction or permit delays. Others, including elephants, have limited access to their exhibit spaces.
The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium’s largest, most expensive and perhaps most anticipated exhibit officially opened to the public Friday morning. The 28-acre, $73 million African Grasslands promises a savanna teeming with animals living together, just as they do in Africa.
Mlilo, one of five elephants sent to the Dallas Zoo in a 17-elephant import that sent six each to Omaha and Wichita in March, gave birth to a baby boy on May 14, the zoo announced Tuesday. All of the breeding-age male elephants in Swaziland were given vasectomies several years ago, yet here he is.
After almost two months, the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium’s elephants finally have names, and one is a nod, presumably, to Warren Buffett.
People lined up outside the elephant family quarters to see five of the zoo’s six new elephants, which went on display for the first time Wednesday.
The elephants remained inside, away from the wind and chill, on their first Saturday on display. But chilly weather didn’t keep more than 7,000 people from visiting them. As people took their turns looking at the elephants, phrases such as “That’s crazy,” “I can’t see,” and “There’s the baby elephant” could be heard.
It’s the elephants’ first time on display since arriving at the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium from Swaziland on March 11.
Friends of Animals initially sought to halt the import of 17 elephants from Swaziland to zoos in Omaha, Dallas and Wichita.
At about 11 a.m., the elephants will be introduced to a portion of their new outdoor exhibit, which is located in the far southwest corner of the zoo, south of the giraffes.
Every day since the zoo’s elephants arrived from Swaziland, Africa, on March 11, keepers have shoveled elephant poop into black trash bags that get loaded onto a trailer. The trailer is about the size of a car, and it’s headed for Ashland.
The zoos never planned to publicize information about the elephant transport out of fear for the safety of the animals. So when the news of their journey to America broke, it came as a surprise to many. But it had been in the works for weeks.
Zoo director Dennis Pate said the elephants would go on display to the public before the planned Memorial Day opening of the $73 million African Grasslands exhibit.
In a statement released Thursday afternoon, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium and its partners in Dallas and Wichita said one elephant died in December from “an acute gastrointestinal medical condition,” which the zoos said was impossible to treat.
After temporarily freezing the import while he deliberated, U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates decided to allow the import for fear that sedating the elephants an additional time would cause more harm.
An animal rights group is taking legal action that could delay or prevent elephants from arriving in Omaha.
The elephants are expected to be in Omaha before the entire first phase of the African Grasslands exhibit opens for Memorial Day weekend. But that timeline could be disrupted by animal rights groups.
Those concerned with the import have questioned its merit as a rescue, wondered what alternatives were explored and pondered the psychological and physical well-being of the elephants in captivity.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has denied an extension sought by animal rights groups trying to delay the import of six elephants.
“It’s a little bit of a Martian landscape where the elephants have been,” the zoo's CEO and executive director said. “The only greenery that’s left are some of the plants that nobody wants to eat because they taste horrible.”
The largest construction project in the history of the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium is opening one piece at a time.
This spring, the first buildings in the $73 million, 28-acre construction will open. In June, the two buildings, which will house giraffe and elephants, will be open to view for a limited time before becoming winter-only attractions.