Calgary, AB – After an extensive international search and in-depth review of available accredited facilities, Calgary Zoo officials today announced that plans have been finalized for its three female elephants — Kamala, Swarna and Maharani — to make their new home together at the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C. The Calgary Zoo first announced in April 2012 that its four elephants (three cows belonging to Calgary Zoo and one bull belonging to Miami Zoo) would eventually be relocated, but the search for a new home that the stringent welfare-based criteria Calgary put in place for its elephants took months to finalize.
It will be a very sad day for our keepers, staff, members, volunteers and community when our elephants leave the Calgary Zoo, but this decision is about them and what is best for their long-term welfare," said Dr. Clément Lanthier, President and CEO of the Calgary Zoo. "We have been in lengthy discussions with the Smithsonian's National Zoo, two of our staff visited the facility and we are confident that they will be able to provide an excellent new home with greater capacity and a more suitable year-round climate for our three female elephants."
The females are expected to move in the spring of 2014 to the Smithsonian's National Zoo's newly-developed 'Elephant Trails' exhibit where they will be introduced to four other Asian elephants currently living there, eventually forming a multi-generational herd. Before Kamala, Swarna and Maharani leave Calgary, elephant staff from the Smithsonian's National Zoo will spend time in Calgary to get to know them and elephant staff from Calgary will travel with them and help them adjust to their new home and caregivers.
"Given the wealth of practical and scientific expertise we have at Calgary in the welfare of captive elephants, we were very specific about the expectations for our herd, and so we took time to ensure we could find the best possible home for them," said Dr. Jake Veasey, director of animal care, conservation and research, Calgary Zoo. "We wanted them to go to a facility where their social group can expand, where they can be part of a breeding program and where they can have greater freedom to spend time in the open air year round, 24 hours per day."
"We considered facilities across the world and are confident that after careful consideration of facilities, climate, staff expertise and even issues such as governance, the Smithsonian's National Zoo has the greatest potential to safeguard the welfare of our elephants," Veasey continued. "In addition to which, we will maintain our commitment to our elephants even after they leave our zoo; myself and some of our staff will be assisting the National Zoo further develop its fantastic elephant program in light of the arrival of our elephants."
"The Smithsonian's National Zoo has more than 50 years of experience with Asian elephants both in the wild and in our zoo,” stated Dr. Don Moore, associate director of animal care sciences, Smithsonian's National Zoo, "We've made a commitment for the next century to not only grow a matriarchal herd, but also study elephant reproduction, disease, behavior and most of all, inspire the public to help us in our efforts to save this species."
Orphans from the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka, Kamala and Swarna (38) arrived at the Calgary Zoo in May 1976 at approximately 6 to 8 months of age. Maharani (23) was born at the Calgary Zoo on July 14, 1990 to Kamala and a bull Bandara, also from Pinnawala. At the National Zoo's Elephant Trails complex, they will have four companions: females Ambika (65), Bozie (37), Shanthi (38) and Shanthi's 11-year-old male offspring, Kandula. Species Survival Plan records indicate that four of the elephants overlapped at the Pinnawala orphanage before departing for new homes in North America in 1976 (Kamala, Swarna, Bozie and Shanthi).
The Calgary Zoo will retain ownership of its three female elephants for a period of time to ensure that their long-term needs continue to be met and will stay in close contact with the team at the Smithsonian's National Zoo. The relocation has been approved by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums Asian Elephant Species Survival Plan (SSP).
On July 23, 2013, the zoo shared the news that bull elephant Spike, born at the Miami Zoo, would be moving back to his home turf of Florida and join the Asian elephant herd at Busch Gardens in Tampa.
In April 2012, with an increased understanding of the complex social structure of elephant herds and with their long-term welfare as the primary driver, the Calgary Zoo announced its intention to relocate its elephants. This decision was based on a belief that they will be better served by being part of a larger social group and at a facility with more year-round space. Details relating to that decision are available on the Calgary Zoo's website.