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Elephant Trails

Elephant Trails spans 8,943 square meters, which is large enough to accommodate up to three separate groups of elephants, including a natural, matriarchal herd of elephants and individual bulls. Altogether, the facility can house between eight and ten adult Asian elephants and their young.

Fast Facts

Size

Elephant Trails spans 8,943 square meters total. The indoor exhibit is 1,232 square meters; the outdoor exhibit is 7,711 square meters.

Features

The Zoo’s goal is to provide all elephants with indoor-outdoor access year round. The Elephant Community Center and Elephant Barn contain nine indoor living areas, or “suites.” The outdoor component of Elephant Trails contains seven enclosures, including four exhibit yards, two paddocks, and an Elephant Trek. Sliding doors separate each area and can be opened for full access or closed for isolation of individuals or groups. By enabling or restricting access, keepers vary the level of visual and tactile access among the Zoo’s elephants.

To help ensure the Zoo’s elephants have healthy feet and nails, the Zoo uses a mix of substrates. The indoor facility’s flooring can be heated and is composed of two substrates: rubber flooring and sand.

  • In the Elephant Barn, four suites contain rubber flooring; one suite is comprised of sand flooring that is 1.2 meters deep and sits atop a heated concrete slab
  • In the elephant Community Center, all suites are comprised of sand flooring that is 1.2 meters deep and sits atop a heated concrete slab

The outdoor yards are composed of a mixture containing dirt, sand, and grass. The shift area flooring is made of broom-finished concrete, and the Elephant Exercise Trek is made of pavement.

Elephant Community Center

The Elephant Community Center is an indoor exhibit located on Olmsted Walk, adjacent to Parking Lot B. It highlights the first-class animal husbandry and medical care that the Zoo’s elephants receive, as well as Smithsonian elephant research—both at the Zoo and in native habitats. This facility:

  • Features state-of-the-art animal care facilities. The Elephant Community Center provides the Zoo’s elephants with ample space for socializing, training, and playing.
  • Maximizes elephant comfort through climate control and sand flooring that is 1.2 meters deep.
  • Contains an elephant wading pool with a shower that can be activated by elephants and/or keepers.
  • Allows Zoo visitors the opportunity to get an up-close view of these incredible animals and learn about zoo care, elephant physiology, cognition and social behaviors.
  • Is built within the walls of the Zoo’s historic elephant building.
  • Is a green building. It is LEED gold certified for sustainability and environmentally friendly design. More about the LEED certification of Elephant Trails.

Elephant Community Center visitors will experience the sights, sounds and smells of being close to the Zoo’s Asian elephants. In addition, interactive exhibits will teach visitors about elephants’ physical characteristics, social behaviors, intelligence, and the commitment it takes to care for the Zoo’s elephants. Exhibits include:

  • Timeline: Elephants at the National Zoo
    This timeline begins with Congress creating the National Zoological Park in 1889 and highlights the Zoo’s major elephant conservation milestones through present day.
  • What is an Asian Elephant?
    Visitors explore and learn about the physical features of Asian elephants by manipulating panels to touch replicas (such as skin and hair) and discover facts about elephants’ trunks, teeth, ears, skin, and feet.
  • Extreme Elephants
    This exhibit allows visitors to quantify the extreme lives of elephants. How big are they? How much do they drink? What can they lift?
  • Epic Elephant Stories
    This series of interactive video and audio exhibits highlights the physical and mental capabilities of elephants. Topics include: Bull behavior, matriarchal social structure, elephant cognition, and vocalizations.
  • Photo Booth and Elephant Pledge
    This fun photo booth allows visitors to make a pledge to help save elephants and take an instant photo with family and friends.

Elephant Barn

The Elephant Barn, which is next to the Elephant Community Center, provides more than 5,700 square feet of livable space for the Zoo’s herd of Asian elephants. It is not open to the public except through the Zoo’s Elephant Barn Tours program. Features include:

  • Green building design features, including: geothermal heating; water filtration; recycling capabilities; green roof; energy efficient climate control; and operable skylights.
  • Five ‘suite’ enclosures that can accommodate individual and multiple elephants.
  • A ‘training wall’ that allows keepers safe access to the elephants for training and medical procedures.
  • A transfer hallway that allows for movement within and between the Elephant Barn and Elephant Community Center.
  • An Elephant Restraint Device (ERD) that is used to weigh elephants and keep them secure during training and medical procedures.
  • A hoist beam over each suite that is capable of lifting up to 12,000 pounds. The hoists also allow keepers to hang enrichment items to encourage the elephants’ natural behaviors.
  • An elevated mezzanine walkway for monitoring and studying elephant behavior.
  • An on-site storage and food preparation area. Browse (vegetation such as shoots and leaves that are suitable for animals to eat) is stored in a climate-controlled space where misters keep it fresh until it is given to the animals. 
  • Offices and workspace for the curator and elephant keeper staff.
Outdoor Yards

Outdoor Yards

Diverse outdoor habitats contain features such as pools and sand piles that stimulate natural elephant behavior.The outdoor yards provide more than two acres of varied terrain, elevations and opportunities for the elephants to explore. The four exhibit yards allow for optimal herd management and provide space for the elephant to exercise, forage, and socialize. Features include:

  • Four spacious outdoor animal living spacesand two paddocks.
  • Structures that provide sun protection in the summer and heat in cool weather.
  • Filtered bathing pools that include water sprays in the warmer months.
  • Enrichment objects such as scratch trees, tractor tires and boomer balls.
Elephant Outpost

Elephant Outpost

Featuring dramatic views of the Elephant Trek, a large habitat complete with a pool, and educational components, the Homer and Martha Gudelsky Elephant Outpost is inspired by Smithsonian research projects throughout Asia. Field research plays a critical role in ongoing efforts to preserve wild Asian elephant populations and their habitats. Interactive exhibits ask visitors to play the role of scientists and determine what challenges Asian elephants face. Features include:

  • Elephant Trek
    Unique to the National Zoo, the Elephant Trek provides invigorating outdoor exercise experiences for the Zoos elephants that simulates the type of elevated terrain found in range countries. The fenced quarter-mile walking path then winds its way up through the wooded vegetation. Visitors can view elephants on the trek from the Outpost and from the Bird House circle.
  • Tracking Asian Elephants
    Learn why National Zoo researchers track elephants and what their work means for elephant conservation in range countries. Three different animations, based on real Smithsonian research projects, show elephant movement in Sri Lanka.
  • Tracking Tools
    See authentic tools and equipment used to track Asian elephants. Featured equipment includes a four-foot-wide tracking collar, radio tracking antenna, dart gun and darts, camera traps and G.P.S transponders.
  • African and Asian Elephant Comparison
    A side-by-side interactive display illustrates the physiological differences between African and Asian elephants and helps visitors distinguish them as two distinct species.
  • The Science of Poop Exhibit Table
    Elephant poop is so much more than waste: its scientific gold. This exhibit table shows the many uses for poop in the lab and in the field. Visitors can spin a centrifuge, run hormone tests and learn what scientists can learn just from elephant poop.
  • Elephant Clues Exhibit Table
    Solve mysteries by studying the clues elephant herds leave behind. Measure elephant footprints to learn an animal’s height, examine elephant bones and poop, and learn what camera traps can tell us about where and how elephants live.
  • Elephant Labyrinth Game
    Players help move an elephant, represented as a ball, safely home to its herd. While traveling between patches of forest habitat they must avoid dangers such as villages, railroads, palm oil plantations and poaches.
  • Range Map
    The 17-foot range map shows the dramatic reeducation in Asian elephant habitat over the past 100 years.
  • Elephant Portraits
    Life-sized portraits of Asian Elephants allow visitors to see Asian elephants’ wrinkles, hair and skin texture. 
  • Donation Station
    After learning about Asian elephants and being inspired by the Zoo’s living collection, visitors can become active participants in elephant conservation by donating.
  • Outpost Shop and Snacks
    During warm weather months the Outpost kiosk provides refreshments and elephant-themed gifts. Some of the merchandise includes artisan items from Asian elephant range countries and eco-friendly elephant related products.
  • Restrooms
    The Outpost restrooms feature light-hearted information and graphics that highlight fun facts about elephant bodily functions.
  • Elephant Footprints
    Life-sized painted elephant footprints (based on the actual foot size and stride of Ambika) lead visitors down the Outpost Path.
  • Willow Elephant Sculptures
    Sculptor Steve Manning wove willow branches to create the life-sized mother and bull elephant sculptures at the entrance and exit of the Elephant Outpost Path out of woven willow branches.