OMAHA, Nebraska (AP) — The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium in Omaha has joined efforts with two other U.S. zoos to save 18 elephants living in a southern Africa park from being slaughtered.
The elephants live in a Swaziland park with 15 other elephants, some endangered black rhinos and other animals, The Omaha World-Herald reported Saturday. The country is enduring its worst-ever drought, and officials there had to decide whether to cull the elephants or put a black rhino population already on the brink of extinction at further risk.
Elephants were stripping the park’s 900-year-old trees of their bark and eating grass faster than it could grow, leaving it barren. The black rhinos were running out of food.
“It’s a little bit of a Martian landscape where the elephants have been,” said Henry Doorly Executive Director Dennis Pate, who visited the park last year. “The only greenery that’s left are some of the plants that nobody wants to eat because they taste horrible.”
Officials at the Swaziland park had already sterilized every bull elephant of birthing age and were trucking in hay. The elephants couldn’t be relocated nearby because poaching, habitat loss and elephant-human conflicts were too big a barrier.
The Omaha zoo, which had been searching for elephants for the zoo’s new African Grasslands exhibit, has partnered with the Dallas Zoo and the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas, on the problem. Each zoo is taking six of the park’s elephants — one male and five females. The three zoos also have committed to devote about $1 million to black rhino conservation.
The three zoos have filed permit requests with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Swaziland wildlife authorities to bring the elephants to the United States. They’re expected to arrive in late fall or winter.
In Omaha, the elephants will be housed in a new 29,000-square-foot (2.695-square-meter) elephant family quarters, which is in the final stages of construction in the zoo’s far southwest corner. The building is the largest of the zoo’s $73 million African Grasslands project, costing about $15 million.
The elephants will spend a few weeks in quarantine before going on display, Pate said.
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