Elephants to Relocate

Apr 19, 2012

Calgary Zoo officials today announced their long-term intention to relocate the zoo’s endangered Asian elephants to another zoological facility; the move to an accredited facility that meets specific criteria will occur within four to five years. The elephants will continue to be part of a program which supports the survival of this species. 

“This decision is all about animal welfare,” said Calgary Zoo President and Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Clément Lanthier. “It was based on a growing acceptance and understanding of the importance of the social structure in elephant herds and the knowledge that their welfare is better served by being part of a large social group; something that can only be achieved at a facility with more year-round space than we can provide given the physical limitations of living on an island in a northern climate.” 

“The reality is that the Calgary Zoo has limited areas for expansion due to our location on an island within the city centre. While our elephant facility meets all current industry standards, in our efforts to build a better Calgary Zoo that sets new standards of excellence in animal stewardship, we know that we cannot expand the year-round space for our elephants over the coming decades such that it would accommodate a significantly larger social group and ensure their long-term welfare needs are met.” 

Elephants are complex, intelligent, social creatures and the females form a matriarchal group as the fundamental social unit. Adult bulls are generally more socially-independent animals and move from one herd to another as they seek out females for mating. Given the importance of this social structure, all three female elephants, Kamala, Swarna and Maharani, and Maharani’s calf expected to be born in February 2013, will be kept together as a family unit. 

The bull elephant, Spike, will be relocated to an appropriate facility in cooperation with the Miami zoo that still owns him, and after consultation with the Asian Elephant Species Survival Plan. It is anticipated that his move may occur prior to the females’ relocation.

“The decision to relocate our elephants was terribly difficult. We have had elephants here for more than 40 years. Our team of dedicated professional elephant keepers have literally devoted their careers to care for these inspiring animals,” Dr. Lanthier said. “We are proud of the contribution we have made to the survival of this highly endangered species, but as with all of the animals we care for we must consider carefully how best to provide for them not only now, but far into the future.” 

The time frame for the move along with the decision to move the elephants from the Calgary Zoo has been based on what is best for the elephants. Transporting elephants is a stressful experience for them and young animals are particularly susceptible to stress and stress-induced infections. The proposed timeframe has been selected based around avoiding transport during the window of increased susceptibility for the young calf. 

“We know many people in Calgary will be as sad as we are regarding this decision, but we are confident that everyone wants only the best for the long-term welfare and care of these magnificent animals who have given us so much over the years,” said Dr. Lanthier. “What we want people to understand is that the decision to move our elephants and the timing for the move is based solely on our commitment to their welfare.” 

“In the interim, our elephants will continue to receive the very best of care here including the completion of significant improvements this year to Elephant Crossing to accommodate the arrival of the new calf and make it a better place for the elephants until their move is completed.” 

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