African Elephants Pack Their Trunks in Major Milestone
See the elephants in their state-of-the-art new habitat when the African Savanna opens later this summer.
African elephants Kelly and Tara have packed their trunks in a major celebration for the elephant program at Zoo Atlanta: their long-awaited move to their new environment in the all-new African Savanna, opening later this summer.
In a milestone many months in the making, the elephants walked into their new habitat on June 16. The elephants’ former habitat had been under renovation for several weeks to facilitate the move. Modifications were made to open up one end of the space, with protective barriers constructed to open up an area through which Kelly and Tara were able to walk the short distance into their new area, at their own pace and comfort level and with the encouragement of the Elephant Care Team. To ensure that the elephants were not distracted and to ensure that the care team was able to focus their attention exclusively on Kelly and Tara’s safety and well-being, the move took place prior to Zoo operating hours.
“This is a tremendous moment for the elephant program at Zoo Atlanta and in the history of Zoo Atlanta. We have been looking forward to this milestone for Kelly and Tara for years, and it is a great joy to finally be able to give them a chance to check out the amazing new home we’ve built with them in mind,” said Raymond B. King, President and CEO. “When the new African Savanna opens later this summer, guests will be able to understand the connections between us here in Atlanta and the savanna in Africa, as well as the conservation actions that connect us. With our commitment to a new home for Kelly and Tara, Zoo Atlanta has also embarked on a significant commitment to the conservation of wild African elephants.”
Kelly and Tara will remain behind the scenes as they acclimate to their new spaces. They will occupy the Zambezi Elephant Center, the state-of-the-art indoor component of the new elephant complex, for a period while grass in their new habitat is being planted and given a chance to germinate.
A grassy environment is just one of the many elements of the African Savanna incorporated specifically with elephant well-being in mind. The new environment more than triples the size of the elephants’ former habitat and will be a dynamic living space. Elements will include Abana Pond, the largest of the complex’s three water features. Abana Pond will have 360-degree access and a gentle slope for ease of use by the elephants. Additional water features include two waterfalls and a feeder enrichment activity wall. Hand-crafted rockwork is designed to replicate an African river basin.
The indoor Zambezi Elephant Center has the capacity to house up to seven elephants and likewise features elements planned with elephant well-being in mind, including sand under the elephants’ feet. New viewing opportunities will give guests the exciting chance to look inside the building to observe the elephants’ care. Get a behind-the-scenes look at the construction of the Zambezi Elephant Center on Zoo Atlanta’s YouTube channel.
Kelly and Tara, both 36 years old, arrived at Zoo Atlanta in 1986 and are closely bonded social companions. Over their more than 30 years in Atlanta, much has changed for their counterparts in the wild. Illegal trafficking for ivory and human-wildlife conflict represent significant threats for African elephants. In 2018, Zoo Atlanta announced a partnership with Conservation South Luangwa, a nonprofit organization based in Zambia, to protect elephants and other species impacted by these threats.
Conservation South Luangwa works to identify and prevent illegal wildlife trade using anti-poaching patrols, aerial surveillance and detection dogs trained to find ivory, animal skins, ammunition and firearms, and certain species killed for bushmeat. Conservation South Luangwa also has a strong focus on mitigating human-wildlife conflict by working directly with local people to safeguard their crops and livelihoods while engaging them as advocates for wildlife conservation. In addition to these efforts, the organization has de-snared hundreds of animals – including lions, African wild dogs and many others – that would otherwise have died as a result of injuries in poachers’ snares.
Tens of thousands of elephants are killed for the illegal ivory trade each year, and the U.S. remains one of the world’s largest importers of ivory. Zoo Atlanta is a partner of The Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) 96 Elephants campaign, helping bring the campaign to Atlanta and Georgia in 2014.
Other Zoo Atlanta elephant conservation efforts have included support for Elephants for Africa. Elephants for Africa, which works to promote coexistence with elephants in rural agricultural communities in Botswana, was one of the first programs to be supported by the Zoo’s Quarters for Conservation initiative.
Opening dates for the new elephant complex and other elements of the all-new African Savanna, which will also feature new and expanded habitats for giraffes, zebras, ostriches, warthogs and meerkats, are dependent on construction timing and on animal acclimation periods. Stay up to date at zooatlanta.org/africansavanna.