We’re going to see the elephants, the elephants, the eleph……
Hey! Where are they?
Not at the Philadelphia Zoo, anymore apparently. My nieces, Riley and Olive found that out the hard way on Monday.
I’ve been out of the “Philly with Kids” loop for a while. We live at the shore, after all, and my kiddos are getting big. But when we lived there, the elephants were always a favorite zoo pit stop, especially at this time of year, when they crushed pumpkins under their huge feet for entertainment.
There are about 300,000 African elephants in the wild. Their population is not in immediate danger, but the number is down significantly from the 1.3 million in 1950. Asian elephants are in trouble, however. There are only about 2,000 of them, and zoos and conservationists are working through breeding programs to increase the numbers of both species.
Last I’d heard, Philadelphia was planning on a newer and bigger Elephant habitat, which seemed like a good idea to anyone who ever wondered how such big, beautiful animals could be kept in such a small space.
It turned out the new exhibit would have cost $22 million, and the zoo didn’t have the money to do it. One also has to wonder if a 40 acre zoo could ever humanely maintain these massive creatures. As a point of comparison, San Diego’s Wild Animal Park is 800 acres, but it lies a bit outside the city, unlike Philadelphia’s 150-year-old zoo, which sits amid traffic jams and passing trains on Girard Avenue.
So the animals “packed their trunks” and relocated to the country. Two African elephants, Bette and Kallie, arrived at Pittsburgh Zoo’s 724 acre International Conservation Center last July. (The zoo’s oldest elephant, Petal, died in 2008 at age 52). And the year before that, the zoo’s Asian elephant, Dulary, was sent to the 2200 acre Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. You can see her new home here.
I feel better knowing the animals are living in better conditions, and while Olive and Riley were a bit disappointed, they enjoyed seeing the lions, monkeys and other animals, which live in ever-improving conditions.
I always have mixed feelings about zoos. I hate to see the animals in captivity, but I do think they serve an important purpose. It’s difficult to convince us humans to care very much about things we can’t see…and most of us will never get to Africa or Asia to see these animals.
I guess next time we want to see elephants, we’ll have to head down to the National Zoo in Washington DC. They just opened an expanded $52 million exhibit and breeding program for their Asian elephants last month. And I can’t wait to visit the Philadelphia Zoo again to see how they use the extra space to improve life for its other residents.