May 22, 2013
“Doing what’s right is not always easy.” Elephants are very social animals and truly benefit from the company of other elephants. Knowing that her failing health signaled Judy’s imminent death, it was determined that the best arrangement for our other Asian elephant, Bozie, would be to move her where she could live with a larger group of elephants as quickly as possible after the loss of her 17 year companion. Nearly three years ago, the Zoo staff began searching for the best location for Bozie to live once Judy died.
Bozie is now living in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in a newly constructed $56 million elephant habitat that can accommodate 8 - 10 elephants. We are excited that she can now interact with multiple elephants and will receive excellent care under the Smithsonian’s banner.
Two important questions have arisen during this transition period, and we feel they are worth sharing with you, our members.
Q: Why not just bring more elephants to live in the exhibit?
A: The Baton Rouge Zoo’s elephant exhibit, built in the late 1960s, is no longer considered state-of-the-art for a variety of reasons.
While our current exhibit exceeds the requirements to house two elephants, it cannot accommodate more than two. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) now requires accredited zoos holding elephants to have a minimum of three elephants. This new regulation comes through extensive research, and we now know elephants need to be kept in larger, more social groups. As a result, most new elephant exhibits hold 5 – 12 elephants.
Recent research has also borne a number of other new regulations, such as dry moats. For the safety of the elephants, new elephant exhibits are now prohibited from having dry moats as a barrier, like the one that we currently have.
As occupational safety becomes an even greater concern, there is a need to manage the elephants where elephants and keepers do not share the same space. This management system, known as “restricted contact,” is also a requirement of the AZA and will be made effective by 2014. The goal is to provide a safer work environment for the dedicated staff who care for the elephants.
Our current exhibit doesn’t lend itself to making any of these required modifications.
Q: Will elephants return to Baton Rouge?
A: As standards have changed over the years, we recognize that in order for elephants to be part of future generations in Baton Rouge, a new elephant facility must be built and we need to redirect our focus from Asian elephants to African elephants.
The BREC Foundation and the Friends of the Baton Rouge Zoo boards have developed a steering committee that is currently exploring opportunities for a major capital campaign to develop such a modern elephant facility.
As we start this new chapter in the history of BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo, please know your continued support is important. We have exciting days ahead.