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Asian Elephants at the National Zoo

The National Zoo is home to seven elephants, three of which recently arrived from the Calgary Zoo.

Elephant Trails is one of the most popular exhibits at the Zoo. The new expanded home fosters the development of a thriving, reproducing, multigenerational herd. Visitors can see the elephants both indoors and out, giving them an opportunity to learn about the elephants in their rich and diverse Zoo environment.

Elephant Trails not only allows visitors to see and learn about Asian elephants, it also gives scientists at the National Zoo new opportunities to study elephants.

Elephant Trails is the culmination of the Zoo's enduring commitment to elephant care and research. Its design is LEED gold certified and incorporates environmentally friendly features. The innovative space includes a large barn, an elephant exercise trek through a forested area, three unique outdoor habitats, four water features and a large indoor Elephant Community Center. The indoor communal space allows the elephants to interact and engage with stimulating features such as a giant sand pit, wading pool, and a shower they can operate themselves.

The History of Elephants

For 4,000 years, Asian elephants have been an important part of life for people in Asia. They've carried soldiers into battle, hauled logs, and taken part in religious ceremonies.

But the number of Asian elephants in the world is dwindling, and unless we act now they could soon go extinct. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Animals lists Asian elephants as endangered.

Unfortunately, these pachyderms' populations have decreased by 70 percent due to human-elephant conflict and habitat loss. There are now only 30,000 to 50,000 animals living in 13 Asian countries.

Very few areas in the wild can support elephant populations long-term, and without help the little remaining habitat Asian elephants call home—along with many other species—may disappear within 20 years. In the wild, Asian elephants help keep habitats diverse and full of life. They disperse fruits and their seeds, and create gaps in forest canopy that give small plants the sunlight they need to grow.

Without Asian elephants, biodiversity in Asian forests could significantly decrease and their ecosystems could lose supplies of food and water, as well as medicine-rich plants. About 15,000 Asian elephants live in human care, including in zoos, timber camps, temples, and private camps, as well as other places. That is one-third of all the elephants in the world.

As Asian elephants' natural habitat disappears in the wild, the Smithsonian's National Zoo has built an innovative and stimulating new home for its own elephant herd that is the cornerstone of the Zoo's campaign to save this magnificent species: Elephant Trails.