For Release: June 20, 2006
Peper Long (202) 633-3082 or (202) 391-2471
John Gibbons (202) 633-3083 or (202) 391-4231
National Zoo Launches Campaign to Save Asian Elephants
The Smithsonian's National Zoo today launched Elephant Trails, a new campaign to save Asian elephants. The campaign comprises four elements—a new home for elephants at the Zoo's Washington, D.C., campus; conservation science; educational outreach; and a new elephant research facility at the Zoo's Front Royal, Va., campus. The National Zoo's goal is to ensure a future for this endangered species, which could soon be extinct in the wild and in zoos.
The cornerstone of the campaign is an expanded and transformed National Zoo home for its Asian elephants. The new exhibit, also called Elephant Trails, will provide the Zoo's current and future elephants with a variety of indoor and outdoor habitats that support the natural behavior of a multi-generational herd. Elephant Trails will include a large indoor habitat with soft flooring and an Elephant Community Center, where the National Zoo's elephant herd can be active and socialize throughout the year. The building will accommodate a natural, matriarchal herd of elephants and individual bulls—between eight and 10 adult elephants and their young—with suites for individual elephants.
Unlike the Zoo's current elephant house, built in the 1930s, most of the new Elephant Trails building's space will be dedicated to elephants, rather than humans. The building's design concept offers nearly five times the indoor space that the Zoo's elephants now have, and will better meet elephant needs.
Diverse, outdoor habitats with distinctive elements such as shade structures, pools, sand piles and mud wallows will stimulate natural elephant behavior. A walking path for elephants will run through the outdoor habitats and provide the elephants with exercise and foraging opportunities. Visitors will experience new indoor and outdoor panoramic views of elephants in their rich environment.
Construction on Elephant Trails is planned to begin in the spring of 2007. The total project costs are estimated at $60 million—half paid with federal funds and half raised from private donations. The project is now in the design concept phase, and is moving through the federal and Washington, D.C., design approval process.
When completed, Elephant Trails will provide at least 4 acres of indoor and outdoor space for the Zoo's Asian elephants. More important than actual space, however, is the National Zoo's complex management program, which will take advantage of the community center, the path and habitat options to fully engage the elephants in their natural behavior and social structure.
Asian elephant conservation and science, the second component of the Elephant Trails campaign, is rooted in 40 years of research by National Zoo scientists working in the United States and in Asia. National Zoo scientists were the first to study Asian elephant ecology and behavior, and the first to use satellite technology to trace their movements. Today, National Zoo scientists track one-third of all Asian elephants being monitored via satellite. National Zoo scientists advanced elephant breeding through innovative hormone tools that led to the first assisted reproduction techniques for elephants.
Very little is known about Asian elephants, except that they are racing toward extinction and are more endangered than the better known African savanna elephant species. Approximately 30,000 wild Asian elephants may exist today; however, most populations are small and fragmented. An additional 15,000 are working elephants, used in the timber and tourist industries, and in religious ceremonies. The National Zoo's conservation programs help protect the habitat and species in the wild, and also help improve the lives of those working animals through better management and breeding strategies.
The Elephant Trails campaign also includes a comprehensive educational program that will maximize the impact of seeing elephants for Zoo visitors, and inspire them to support the Zoo and other conservation organizations that are working to conserve this endangered species. Volunteer interpreters and Zoo staff at the exhibit will help visitors learn more about this magnificent species and the Zoo's conservation efforts. Classes, teacher resources and the Zoo's Web site will reach those who can't visit the Zoo. A Web-based education program will explore Asian elephant biology, natural history, habitat and the intricate issues surrounding their conservation.
The fourth component of the campaign will be a new research facility at the Zoo's Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va. The new facility will provide space to hold male elephants as the Zoo expands its herd, and allow flexibility for the Zoo to grow its elephant breeding program in the future.
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Note to Editors: Graphics of the concept design for the Elephant Trails exhibit are available from the Zoo's public affairs office.