Thursday, June 09, 2011

..Little Rock Zoo Gets Two New Elephants..


The former circus performers were donated by Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey after the death last month of the zoo's elephant Mary, who had been suffering from cancer.

The new elephants will serve as companions for another elephant Ellen, who has been at the zoo since 1954.

“It's really important for these guys to socialize,” said Joseph Darcangelo, curator of the elephant exhibit, looking out at the elephants after their arrival Wednesday.

Jewell, 60, and Zina, 50, traveled to Arkansas by truck from a center in Florida that cares for retired circus elephants.

“Right now you can tell that both the elephants are a little bit tired because of their long travel,” said Darcangelo, “but the fact that they are grazing in the green grass that we have on the exhibit is wonderful.”

“Over here we have Jewel. She's actually socializing with some of the keepers who are now going to become her partners during her stay here at the Little Rock Zoo.”

Keeping a watchful distance in the enclosed area was Ellen.

Darcangelo says it's a careful process allowing the elephants to get to know one another.

“It could go on for a couple of days. It could go on for a couple of weeks before we actually put them all together. And how do we determine that? We let the elephants determine that,” said Darcangelo. “When you have 10,000 pound elephants, they're the ones who make the decisions and we have to be able to read that decision accurately so that we make the right choice.”

Critics have said the zoo doesn't have enough room to adequately care for elephants and suggested after the death of Mary that Ellen be sent to a conservatory for the final phase of her life. But Zoo officials say the elephant exhibit now has more room and that the elephants can be taken on two mile walks around the grounds in the early mornings.

Visitors to the zoo Wednesday delighted in watching the new arrivals.

“I think that it's really exciting and awesome for not only our zoo but also for all of Arkansas that we're able to have so many elephants and that's absolutely incredible for me,” said Mary Katherine Keller, 16, of Little Rock.

Darcangelo said having three elephants will also help the Little Rock Zoo maintain an important accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

“It was really important when we lost Mary that we acquisition two other elephants to not only meet the needs of an accredited zoo, but also to meet the needs of Ellen.”