Wednesday, June 8, 2011

LA Zoo Elephants of Asia Exhibit

It was back in January that I first had the chance to see part of the new LA Zoo Elephants of Asia exhibit from the Cambodian Pavilion during the Zoobiquity Conference evening reception. This time around I was able to get a closer look from the inside, specifically the elephants living quarters, the massive elephant barn.

Dr. Curtis Eng, the chief veterinarian at the LA Zoo, met us at the entrance and led us up to the 3.8 acre exhibit of mixed terrain consisting of two feet of soft river sand, grassy hills, pools and a waterfall. The day started with Tina & Jewel, the two female elephants, who went through a demonstration with Don and Vicky, the elephant managers. The demonstration went through different moves that the elephants are trained to do to make it easier for the staff and veterinarians to examine them. This included lifting up each foot, opening their mouths and touching different areas where they may receive an injection or have blood drawn from so that they can get used to it. Of course, after each move they received treats.

We then moved into the elephant barn and Jennie Becker, the Curator of Mammals at the LA Zoo, walked us through the highlights of this massive complex. The exhibit was designed not only for the comfort of the elephants, but also to make it easier for them to be cared for by the staff and veterinarians. The elephant barn is equipped with elephant sized bedrooms and heated floors.

A special area of the barn is a very thin room, where the elephants walk into and on each side staff can stand behind gates and open small gates in different areas in order to closely and safely examine the elephants, this is termed protected contact.

During the tour we could hear Tina and Jewel rattling the gates as they wanted to come in for the night. We went up to the second story of the barn and watched them walk into their "bed rooms." Eventually Billy, the male elephant, also walked into his "bed room." As we left they were all having their dinner.

If you haven't gone to the LA Zoo lately, you should plan on going as this exhibit, and many others have been nicely re-done. There are more improvements on the way to better the animals living areas, make it easier and safer to care for them and to better educate the public on the lives of these majestic animals and conservation efforts as many of these species battle with habitat loss and poaching in the wild.

Although I am not able to post any photos from the inside the elephant barn, I have posted some photos of what you will see when you visit.