Elephant

Baby elephant’s first bath saves internet

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The internet needs rescuing this week. Our country is wounded; our hearts hurt. But we can bring you a smile and a bit of lighthearted relief, courtesy of one baby whose innocence is gracing cyberspace with raw, unfiltered joy.

Cue: Baby elephant’s first-ever water hose spray-down session.

Give your heart permission to melt. Save these photos as the wallpaper on your phone. Send to a friend or family member who needs it. This is pure bliss.

Born one month ago on May 14 to mom Mlilo, this little guy is changing every day. During this unforgettable water session with mom, he plopped down on the ground, enamored of the spitting water he could collect on his tongue.

Another recent “first” is putting food items in his mouth, just like mom. His awkward trunk manages to scoop up lone leaves. But unlike mom, he hasn’t mastered the consumption part just yet. Everything right now is simply exploratory.

He enjoys investigating mom’s diet as she eats. He plants this body directly under Mlilo’s jaw, fixated by the smells and sounds of her munching. His attempts to maneuver his tiny trunk into her open mouth fail every time.

He’s also learning basic husbandry behaviors, like target training. These skills eventually will help him voluntarily present parts of his body to keepers during health checks. As an AZA-accredited, protected contact zoo, we don’t share the same space with certain animals without a barrier between us. That’s why positive reinforcement training is so crucial. It lets the animal act as naturally as possible, and keeps both staff and animals safe.

“The calf enjoys the tactile sensation of working with the target, which resembles a massive cotton swab,” said elephant Curator Karen Gibson. “Mlilo’s attentive and protective of her baby, but she trusts us when we work with him. And he’s very comfortable with us. It’s always his choice if he wants to participate.”

And just like a toddler, constant distractions consume this little boy’s world.

“He’s a wild little man who brings us so much joy,” Gibson said. “It’s fascinating to watch him grow daily. His poops look like perfect Hershey’s kisses. And he’s learned to use his trunk like a straw in the water trough to blow bubbles.”

With multiple naps a day, endless nursing bouts, and continuous play sessions, we’ll never tire of this ellie boy’s antics. And it’s our promise to you to never stop sharing the moments that capture the sunshine he exudes, especially in dark times when we all need it most.

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Categories: Elephant | 28 Comments

Q&A: Dallas Zoo welcomes precious elephant calf

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It’s big news: we’ve welcomed a male African elephant calf, born Saturday, May 14, to Mlilo, one of our elephants rescued from drought-stricken Swaziland. The relocation of these elephants to Dallas in March not only saved Mlilo, but also provided for the survival of this beautiful calf, who will be an excellent ambassador for his species, inspiring guests to help find answers to the grave crisis elephants face in Africa.

“This birth validates the critical importance of our rescue efforts and why we worked so hard to get these animals to safety as quickly as possible,” said Gregg Hudson, our Dallas Zoo president and CEO.

“I shudder to think what would have happened to Mlilo and her calf if this move hadn’t occurred, and without the last six months of food and water we provided while they were in Swaziland, plus the excellent care and nutrition they have received upon their arrival.”

Here’s a Q&A about the birth, a precious ray of hope for African elephants:

Elephant calf May17_2016 LH6 logo resizedHow are mom and baby? They’re doing great, receiving round-the-clock veterinary and keeper care. The baby is active and exploring the barn, although he doesn’t get too far from mom. He’s nursing and vocalizing as expected.

The calf stands about 3 feet tall, and his tiny trunk is just over a foot long. His ears are light pink, contrasting with his darker gray body. He weighs 175 pounds, which is on the low end of the 150- to 300-pound range for newborn African elephants. A low birth weight isn’t surprising, given the difficult conditions in Swaziland during his 22-month gestation.

Does he have a name yet? No, that will come later. Our staff is busy now caring for him and our other nine elephants, but will come up with names reflecting his heritage.

When was he born? Mlilo went into labor Saturday night, May 14. The birth went uneventfully and quickly, and the calf was born naturally at 10:15 p.m.

Were you prepared for the calf? Yes. Since the elephants arrived, our veterinary and keeper teams have constantly monitored all of the elephants, noting Mlilo’s potential pregnancy. Our elephants’ habitat has deep, soft sand, which provided a soft natural landing for the newborn.

Are they being monitored? Absolutely. For those critical first few days after his birth, keepers even stayed around-the-clock in the barn, providing regular updates to the veterinary and nutrition teams. As our elephant experts continue to build trust and develop relationships with the Swaziland elephants, husbandry training will allow more detailed veterinary care.

When did you know Mlilo was pregnant? We had some indications of a possible pregnancy in Swaziland, but hormone testing was inconclusive. Additionally, breeding-age bull elephants in Swaziland had been vasectomized, so the chances of a pregnancy were extremely low. Regardless, we have been very careful with Mlilo’s day-to-day care, and were able to create the positive conditions for a successful birth. Better nutrition for the past two months has helped Mlilo, who’s estimated to be about 14 years old, gain 300 crucial pounds.

_MG_7308-CB logo resizedWho is the father? We don’t know which bull in Swaziland fathered the calf. Wildlife management officials there don’t always witness breeding behavior. And because elephant overpopulation is a challenge in their parks, they performed vasectomies on their bulls. However, elephant contraception isn’t yet perfected; just as in humans, the vasectomy may not always work to prevent pregnancies.

Are any of the other Swaziland elephants pregnant? There are no indications that any are pregnant. Elephants have a 22-month gestation, so it is possible, but not something we’re anticipating.

Does the birth show that Swaziland plans to breed elephants? No. Swaziland’s detailed wildlife plan doesn’t include breeding elephants. Officials there are pursuing efforts, such as the vasectomies, to prevent future births.

Is your staff experienced with elephant husbandry to care for the calf and mother? Yes. Experts on our staff previously have cared for young elephants. We also are collaborating with elephant experts at other AZA-accredited institutions, taking advantage of the wealth of knowledge among that group.

When will guests be able to see them? We don’t know yet. It could be several months, while Mlilo, her calf, and the rest of the herd bond.

Categories: Elephant | Tags: , , , | 15 Comments

Swazi elephants doing well

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A close-up of mother Nolwazi enjoying some browse.

Our experts have been busy round-the-clock caring for the five elephants we rescued from drought-ravaged Swaziland. We’re happy to report that the new arrivals are doing well!

They’re loving their much better diet. With food and hay affected by the drought, they arrived underweight. But in the past three weeks, all have gained weight, with several putting on more than 100 pounds.

And they’re already bonding with our keepers. Because we use only protected contact and free choice – we don’t force the animals to do anything they don’t want to do – these relationships are very important. Names are critical; elephants definitely respond when they hear them. The keepers chose names that honor the elephants’ African heritage.

So please let us introduce:

  • Mlilo (“fire”): She’s a spirited one! Estimated at 10-15 years old, her name is pronounced “ma-LEE-lo.”
  • Zola (“quiet/tranquil”): About the same age as Mlilo, she’s a mellow girl.
  • Amahle (“beautiful one”): Aged 6-10, she’s the smallest – but she’s growing fast, having put on more than 110 pounds so far! It’s pronounced “a-MAH-lee.”
  • Nolwazi (“knowledgable”): The oldest at 20-25 years and Amahle’s mother. Pronounced “nole-WAH-zee.”
  • Tendaji (“make it happen”): The only bull, he’s also gained more than 100 pounds. Pronounced “ten-DAHJ-ee.”

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    Male Tendaji dozes off on a sand mound.

The group remains together under a USDA quarantine, which we expect to be lifted shortly. But don’t count on seeing them all in the Giants of the Savanna soon; we’ll move slowly to give them time to adjust to the new habitats and be introduced to our four “Golden Girls.”

This remarkable rescue was a long, complex process, made even more difficult by the spreading of misinformation. But because of your continued support, these five remarkable creatures are alive and thriving, and we’re proud of that. Thank you!

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Elephant | 1 Comment

Q&A: Dallas Zoo rescues Swaziland elephants

We’re thrilled that you’re excited about our rescue of elephants from drought-stricken Swaziland, Africa. Here’s a Q&A that addresses the most frequent questions:

One of Dallas Zoo's new female elephants eating bamboo.

One of Dallas Zoo’s new female elephants eating bamboo.

How many elephants did each zoo receive?

Dallas Zoo is caring for five new elephants, four females and a male. Sedgwick County Zoo and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo have six each, five females and one male.

Are any of the elephants babies? No; all are weaned, including the daughter who’s with her mother.

Would some people rather see them die than in your zoo?

Yes. We’ve heard that numerous times from activists. Knowing what we do about our habitat and the lives we can provide these elephants, we strongly disagree. And we believe the vast majority of reasonable people agree with us, as evidenced by the tens of thousands of messages of support we’ve received. We’re proud to step up and offer them an enriching new home and the safe, healthy future they deserve.

Why did the elephants need a new home?

Two reasons: wildlife management, and drought.

Swaziland is a small, landlocked country in southern Africa, about the size of New Jersey. About 1.25 million people live there, vs. nearly 7 million in Dallas-Fort Worth alone.

Though technically classified as “wild,” Swaziland’s elephants have spent their entire lives in managed and protected care inside two non-profit wildlife parks. There is little true “wild” left in Africa anymore — most elephants live in managed wildlife parks that require vigilant security to protect them from poachers.

The elephant population was destroying the land and resources needed for wildlife conservation inside the parks. Elephants destroy trees, eat their way across grassy plains, and change dense forests into barren landscapes. This has devastating impacts on the landscape and other wildlife species that depend on it.

Swazi wildlife managers are focusing on the more critically endangered rhino population. But the rhinos have few resources, due to the elephant destruction.

Researchers and scientists from accredited zoos have tried to help control the elephant population – relocating 11 animals 12 years ago and even performing costly vasectomies on several bull elephants – but Swazi officials were still faced with too many elephants to accomplish their management goals.

They plan to continue to care for smaller elephant herds moving forward, with the goal of establishing groups of not more than five elephants in each park, a sustainable number that will allow elephants, rhinos and other wildlife to thrive, too. As part of that plan, these elephants had to be relocated or be culled. That may seem to some like a harsh move, but that decision was made only after much consideration by experienced Swazi wildlife officials who must manage the country’s resources.

And the drought?

Swaziland and other countries in southern Africa are suffering under the most severe drought in their history. Just this week, Swazi officials announced that they could no longer produce electricity due to a lack of water, so they now must import 100 percent of its power from other countries. The United Nations is providing aid to more than 300,000 people, and more than 100,000 animals have died.

While this project began as a wildlife conservation effort, the drought increased its urgency. We have been paying to provide food and water for these elephants for nine months, freeing Swaziland to spend its resources to try to keep their other wildlife alive, from kudu to crocodiles and rhinos.

Were the elephants imported legally?

Yes. There has been a lot of false and misleading information shared, 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. We were legally entitled to transport the elephants, and we knew we needed to act without further delay because the situation in Swaziland is deteriorating.

The USFWS approved the permit after its scientifically rigorous analysis determined that the proposed import meets regulatory requirements under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The details of the transportation and importation also were coordinated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

 Did you rush this move ahead of a court hearing?

Absolutely not. Since our permit was granted on Jan. 20 after months of review, we focused on all of the logistics involved with moving the elephants safely. You can’t suddenly charter a 747 and arrange safe transport of 17 massive animals in a day or two. We even custom-built their travel crates. Those details alone should tell you that this wasn’t done suddenly.

Here’s what really happened: A small activist group sued the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, hoping to block the move. However, they never asked the Court to prohibit the move while their lawsuit proceeded. They had weeks to do so, and did not. They even admitted to the court after they filed their lawsuit that the zoos could decide to move the elephants at any time.

After the transfer process was well under way, these activists suddenly decided to ask that the transfer be blocked. The federal judge was reached late at night, and held an emergency hearing on their request. He heard evidence from both sides and denied the activists’ request, ruling that such a last-minute delay could endanger the health of the animals. Legally, the burden was always on the activists to present valid reasons to stop the import and they failed to do so.

We held a valid permit; we planned a move with complicated logistics and many layers of animal professionals; we coordinated it with multiple U.S. government agencies; and we did it openly at a public airport in broad daylight. Anyone who alleges otherwise is simply an anti-zoo activist and wants to promote their own agenda.

Isn’t the legality of the permit being challenged in court?

Nothing in the filing of the preliminary injunction by the activist group prohibited the rescue mission from progressing. Despite the group’s rhetoric, the plaintiff acknowledged to the court weeks ago that the zoos had every right to move the elephants at any time.

The fact is, the import permit was issued after extensive review and met all of the criteria required by law. A similar permit allowing for the import of elephants to the U.S. in 2003 was upheld after similar challenges by animal activist groups.

Rescuing these elephants is not only legal, but is ethically the right thing to do. These animals would have been killed, period. We acted quickly to provide these animals a safe haven and a secure future.

Why not wait until the entire lawsuit played out?

The zoos met all requirements for importation and received the go-ahead from the USFWS to import the elephants. That was our legal right. At no time did the government indicate that we should not exercise our rights under the permit – and indeed, the travel and importation was coordinated with the FWS and the USDA. Our first and foremost concern is the well-being of the elephants. It was in their best interest to rescue them as soon as possible because Swaziland has declared a national state of emergency due to the severe, historic drought that has killed tens of thousands of animals, as well as people. Food and water are scarce.

Lawsuits against government agencies – in this case, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – can take years to resolve. And there was no reason to believe that this lawsuit wouldn’t have failed – just like the prior activist challenge did in the same court back in 2003. These elephants simply didn’t have that time.

Did you buy these elephants?

No. We paid to relocate them, and we are contributing to Swaziland’s ongoing conservation efforts, which we were committed to doing whether this permit was granted or not.

How did you pay for the move? It was all paid for with private funding.

Is Swaziland keeping any elephants? Yes, about 20, for cultural purposes. The elephant represents the Queen of the country.

What’s going to prevent Swaziland from doing this again? Swazi wildlife managers have vasectomized most of the remaining males, because they have no plans to breed any more elephants.

Why not move the elephants elsewhere in Africa?

A relocation within Africa was unrealistic. It’s a complex situation. Poaching has reached critical levels in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Zambia. At the same time, elephant populations in Botswana and Namibia are so large the only need for elephants would be for elephant-back safaris – a commercial purpose prohibited under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

So, too many elephants, or not enough? Well, it’s both. At Kruger National Park, their current elephant population is nearly 40,000 animals, and park officials have said their biodiversity can handle only about 7,000 or fewer. In other areas, the elephant population isn’t as stable, and it’s certainly not safe from poachers. Poaching has even encroached in Kruger: at this respected park, more than 20 elephants have been slaughtered in recent months.

Other African countries also have varying regulations on imports. In South Africa, for example, standards for the management of elephants have been established and elephants from outside the country are not typically allowed.

Why not move them to a “sanctuary”?

In the United States, there is no safer place for these animals to live than at our progressive habitat. The romantic story of “sanctuaries” often fails to address funding issues at them. Raising money is always a concern, as is the lack of round-the-clock medical care by veterinarians experienced in caring for elephants. But most importantly, our habitat provides an excellent home for these animals, with room to walk long distances, mud wallows, sand piles for resting, and more.

Why didn’t you spend this money to help elephants in Africa instead?

Even as a non-profit zoo ourselves, we donate money to conservation efforts around the world. For example, we support both 96Elephants and the Tarangire Elephant Project in Tanzania. Part of your admission costs go directly to our partners, and special events raise more money that we send right to them. Naming contests for our two giraffe births last year brought nearly $100,000, and every dime was sent straight to conservation groups.

Another example: poaching is a significant problem we are working to eradicate. Increasingly sophisticated poachers kill an average of nearly 100 elephants in Africa every day for their ivory. The population has declined by 60 percent in the past decade alone. We serve as proud partners of several groups working to end ivory sales and stop the slaughter.

Today, there are few safe places for elephants on the continent, between expanding agriculture and vicious, rampant poaching. While progress is being made, meaningful change will take time and the elephants need a home now.

How did you decide which elephants went to each zoo? Swazi wildlife officials had monitored these animals for a long time, as did our staff starting last summer. The groupings were based on a variety of factors, including social dynamics and the personality traits of individual animals.

Why is this good for the elephants?

These elephants were facing certain death in Swaziland. Now, they’re safe and will be cared for by a team of vets, full-time nutrition staff, and elephant experts. They will live in our world-renowned elephant habitat, where they will remain within their social groupings. We know no other place in the world could provide this kind of safety.

So these zoos are good places for them?

Yes. We and the other two accredited zoos that offered homes to these animals have taken an innovative new approach to professional human care of elephants. The elephants live in expansive new herd habitats unlike any seen before, letting the elephants establish multigenerational herds in stimulating environments that meet their complex physical, mental and social needs.

These new habitats give each elephant a rich, complex life that includes making choices about how to spend their days; constant physical activity through foraging and play; ongoing mental stimulation to exercise their intelligence; and a social herd setting.

How is that different from the zoos of old?

When today’s adults were kids, there hadn’t been a lot of research about what is best for elephants in human care. That’s changed. These new habitats were developed using the latest science about elephant welfare, including a landmark 2013 study that assessed the health of all elephants at U.S. accredited zoos and identified opportunities to improve their welfare.

For example, here at the Dallas Zoo, we’re the first mixed-species habitat in the U.S. to combine African elephants with zebras, giraffes, kudu, ostriches and guinea fowl, just as they would in Africa. And the Giants of the Savanna habitat was designed with assistance from Dr. Charles Foley of the Tarangire Elephant Project. It includes migration routes that allow our elephants to walk as far as they’d like. In fact, one of our girls has been measured going 17 miles in a day.

Originally, you asked to move 15. Why did you update the permit request to 18?

Last summer, we observed that three of the younger elephants chosen to be culled were bonded with their mothers, and we didn’t want to separate them. We want to keep elephants in as large of social groups as possible, and these elephants should mesh well with our older matriarch elephants, too.

What happened to the 18th elephant?

We were notified by wildlife managers in Swaziland of the death of one of the elephants. The death resulted from an acute gastrointestinal medical condition, which was impossible to treat in the field. This gave greater urgency to our desire to act promptly on behalf of the remaining elephants, by rescuing them quickly so they could receive the 24/7 veterinary care the zoos can provide.

Why didn’t you share information about the fate of the 18th elephant until now?

We notified the permitting authorities as soon as the animal died in December. There was no need to release it publicly, because we weren’t releasing any details of the transfer for the safety of the animals and our staff, and our permit had not yet been granted. While we asked for a permit to allow 18 to be moved, we wouldn’t know until the transfer date exactly how many would come. That’s because every animal had be medically evaluated just prior to the rescue mission to ensure they were healthy and fit for travel. It was always possible that we would move fewer than 18. We have been very transparent about this process with every agency with which we were working.

Is there any concern for the health of the other elephants?

The rescued elephants’ health is stable. However, they are still resting from their relocation, and the drought conditions put stress on all wildlife in Swaziland. During the move and now, the elephants are in constant care of veterinarians.

Can the elephants put people or other elephants at risk for TB or other communicable diseases?

No, all of the animals that were rescued were tested and cleared before the move.

Why do zoos need elephants?

In the past 20 years, elephant populations in the wild have decreased dramatically. Zoo are not only ensuring that elephants have a safe, protected future, but are guarding against extinction of the largest land mammals on earth. Our elephant keepers speak to more than 1 million guests each year about conservation efforts and why we must all work together to reverse the trends of extinction and habitat loss. Sustainable elephant populations in zoos are critical to those educational efforts.

How exactly does this help rhinos?

The strategic wildlife management plan created by Swaziland conservation officials aims to restore balance to their land and shift the conservation focus to endangered populations of rhinos:

  • The black rhino is critically endangered. Once the most abundant of all rhino species, 10 years ago fewer than 2,500 remained. One subspecies became extinct three years ago.
  • White rhino are doing only slightly better. After nearly being eliminated 100 years ago, the population has rebounded somewhat, but remains threatened.

Both species are under threat. Poachers kill rhinos for their horns, and demand is strong. Luckily, rhinos do not damage the land, and large numbers could thrive in Swaziland’s protected parks.

Wildlife experts believe the habitats currently decimated by the impact of three dozen elephants have the potential to support hundreds of black and white rhinos, creating a significant opportunity to help that far more critically endangered species.

To help accomplish this goal, the three zoos will support Swaziland rhino conservation efforts for years to come, providing technical and financial support.

Protecting large numbers of rhinos while saving the lives of these elephants is a win-win scenario.

Activists suggest research on zoo elephants shows physical and psychological suffering caused by captivity. What is your response to those claims?

Those claims are unsubstantiated by science. Much of the information being cited is old, and doesn’t take into account the current methods of human care of elephants. In fact, there has been only one major, comprehensive study analyzing the welfare of elephants living in U.S. zoos. Initial results from that study released in 2013 suggest positive conclusions about the well-being of elephants living in modern AZA-accredited institutions.

That three-year study analyzed 255 elephants living in 70 zoos. Modern, accredited zoos provide optimal husbandry and care, social environments, and habitats for wildlife. Modern scientific techniques are being used to assess animal welfare. These studies inform zoo animal management decisions, and validate the exceptional care being provided to animals by modern zoos. All three zoos accepting these elephants have expansive habitats that can provide just this kind of forward-thinking care to these animals.

How are you going to manage nine elephants in the Giants of the Savanna? We have expanded one of our large quarantine spaces and converted it to an elephant barn. The habitat’s “flex” design has always allowed us to rotate elephants into different spaces as needed, including alongside giraffes, zebras, and kudu.

How are the elephants that were imported in 2003 doing?

They’re thriving. Eight females and two of the three males have produced offspring, resulting in 14 births and increased genetic diversity in the North American population. AZA, the national accrediting body for zoos, recognized the program with its top conservation awards for its success.

Categories: Africa, Conservation, Elephant | 16 Comments

Rescue mission accomplished: Dallas Zoo, two other zoos welcome African elephants to safe homes

Our new bull elephant grabs a bite in the new elephant barn Friday, March 11.

Our new bull elephant grabs a bite in the new elephant barn Friday, March 11.

Together with our two zoo partners on Friday, we’ve successfully completed a rescue mission to relocate 17 elephants from drought-stricken Swaziland, Africa, to new homes in the U.S. The five elephants that will call our Zoo home – four females and one male – arrived today off of a special charter flight, then were whisked to the Zoo under armed escort by the Fort Worth SWAT team and Dallas Police officers.

All 17 elephants came through their travels well, eating, drinking and sleeping aboard the charter flight, which arrived just after midnight at Fort Worth’s Alliance Airport. The five new Dallas Zoo residents disembarked for the final leg of their journey beginning just after 8 a.m., and are now becoming acclimated to their new, state-of-the-art elephant barn.

The Dallas Zoo is already home to a geriatric female herd of four, fondly known as the “Golden Girls.” The new elephants do not yet have names. After a 30-day quarantine period, they will begin introductions to the Golden Girls. Guests won’t be able to see the new additions until keepers are sure they have settled in well.

We, along with Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Wichita’s Sedgwick County Zoo and conservation officials in Swaziland stepped up to offer these elephants a new home.

The conservation partners transported the elephants after receiving an importation permit from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS) on Jan. 20, after a 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).

We have held a legal permit to relocate the elephants since Jan. 20. They won a last-minute challenge by animal activists in federal court, where a judge upheld the validity of the permit and allowed the rescue to proceed. And today (Friday, March 11), the activist group which tried to delay the relocation filed a motion to withdraw its request for a preliminary injunction against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The U.S. District Court ordered that the motion is deemed withdrawn, and that the previously scheduled briefing schedule be cancelled.

The elephants came from two privately managed government parks in Swaziland, where they had been removed due to overpopulation and slated to be culled (killed). The Swaziland government declared a national state of emergency in February due to historic drought conditions. Tens of thousands of animals are dying from drought and lack of food, and the United Nations is providing assistance to 200,000 people.

“We’ve worked with Swaziland wildlife authorities for several years on this assistance project, but it escalated to a rescue mission last fall due to this state-of-emergency drought,” said Gregg Hudson, Dallas Zoo president and CEO. “Tens of thousands of animals have died, as well as people, too.”

“In addition, there are reports coming out of Africa that the drought will kill more rhinos than poachers will this year,” Hudson added. “We had to act quickly to save as many animals as possible. The well-being of these elephants is more important to us than anything.”

We’ve paid to bring in truckloads of hay from South Africa to feed elephants and other animals in the parks; however, many animals – including 38,000 head of livestock – died in the severe conditions. The urgency of the situation increased further in December when we were notified by wildlife managers in Swaziland of the death of one of those elephants that was awaiting relocation to the U.S. The death resulted from an acute gastrointestinal medical condition, which was impossible to treat in the field. We recognized it was our duty to act promptly on behalf of the remaining 17 elephants, by relocating them quickly so they could receive the veterinary care we can provide.

“There are those who would rather see elephants die than live in accredited zoos. We strongly disagree with that position,” Hudson added. “As animal caretakers and conservationists, we care about populations as a whole just as much as an individual animal. We can provide these elephants a safe future while making an enormous impact on rhino conservation in Africa, and inspiring future generations to take actions to prevent the extinction of elephants in our lifetime.”

The transfer also creates critical room for rhinos in Big Game Parks, which plans to expand its conservation efforts for these critically endangered animals. All three zoos are providing ongoing support for Swaziland’s rhino conservation program, which is expected to significantly contribute to the survival of rhinos in Africa.

“Today is a day to be grateful, and hopeful,” Hudson added. “These elephants will receive advanced veterinary care, and plenty of food and water in a spacious, stimulating, modern habitat that advances elephant families. Endangered rhinos in Africa suffering from the drought already have been moved into the bomas where these elephants had been living and will receive desperately needed support. So it’s a good day.”

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.

For more background on this conservation effort, please visit: www.RoomForRhinos.org.

Categories: Africa, Elephant | 2 Comments

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