US zoos to help save Swazi park elephants

2015-09-27 21:20
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Omaha - The Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium in Omaha has joined efforts with two other US 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 rhino and other animals, The Omaha World-Herald reported on 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 rhino 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 sterilised 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 project. Each zoo is taking six of the park's elephants - one male and five females. The three zoos also have committed to devote about $1m to black rhino conservation.

The three zoos have filed permit requests with the US Fish & Wildlife Service and Swaziland wildlife authorities to bring the elephants to the United States. They're expected to arrive in late autumn or winter.

In Omaha, the elephants will be housed in a new 2 695m² 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 $73m African Grasslands project, costing about $15m

The elephants will spend a few weeks in quarantine before going on display, Pate said.

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