Sanctuary Asia Preview: Asian Elephants

Sanctuary Asia, opening soon at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, will create a vast, multipurpose environment where endangered animals from the Asian continent can thrive while receiving world-class animal care. Prior to the opening, we will periodically preview a species coming to the new habitat. We previously featured the Indian rhinoslangurscassowariestanuki (raccoon dogs) and Komodo dragons, now it's time to profile the Asian elephants.

In a unique arrangement, the elephants and rhinos will alternate between the existing 4.5-acre elephant habitat and a new 3.5-acre space at Sanctuary Asia. Sanctuary Asia and the current elephant habitat are divided by a road used by OKC Zoo trams and other Zoo staff. Since removing the road was not a possibility, engineers designed a special elephant and rhino crossing gate that will securely open and close, allowing the animals to move between the spaces.

The Zoo is home to six elephants: females Bamboo, 52, Chandra, 22, Asha, 23, Achara, 3, plus males Rex, 48, and Kandula, 16. Asha is expected to deliver an offspring in mid-October, bringing the herd to seven. Zoo guests can experience elephant presentations daily (weather permitting) at 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Elephant Pavilion. Each elephant at the Zoo has a different, distinct personality, eating habits, likes and dislikes… and their caretakers know everything about the amazing animals entrusted to their care.

Asian elephants are an endangered species. Currently, their greatest threat is habitat destruction. More than 60 percent of the total human population lives in Asia, and this population has nearly quadrupled in the last century. Habitat destruction is forcing animals, elephants in particular, to come in contact with humans in ways that can cause conflict. The Zoo has been working with the Rainforest Trust to purchase and preserve 13,000 acres of forest in central Sumatra and 18,000 acres of forest in Borneo, both of which are natural habitats for Asian elephants. Save the date and join us on Sunday, August 12 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as we celebrate World Elephant Day presented by Bob Moore Subaru and learn more about the Zoo’s popular pachyderms and how you can help protect their wild relatives. Activities are free with Zoo admission. To learn more, visit okczoo.org.

In addition to Asian elephants, Sanctuary Asia will be home to Indian rhinos, Komodo dragons, langurs, red pandas, cassowary, tufted deer and tanuki (raccoon dogs). A major feature of the new habitat will be the Lotus Pavilion, a two-story building providing the Zoo’s highest vantage point allowing guests to see into multiple animal habitats through vast windows as well as a wraparound balcony on the second floor. The views will include the elephant, rhino and Komodo dragon habitats.

Sanctuary Asia will provide daily food service and a facility designed for after-hours special events, including weddings. A water zone will give children a splash area to experience in the summer. The landscape design will include plantings native to Oklahoma, but will resemble lush Asian themes. Funding for the 6.6-acre expansion was secured through the Zoo’s 1/8-of-a-cent sales tax accrual, approved by Oklahoma City citizens in 1990. The $22 million project was outlined as Phase II in the Zoo’s master plan in 2010.

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