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After years of anticipation, the Milwaukee County Zoo opened a brand new elephant exhibit earlier this month as part of Adventure Africa, a project that ultimately will change a fourth of the zoo’s current landscape.
In Madison, the closest place to see elephants is in Milwaukee. Zoo Director Chuck Wikenhauser said elephants are not in zoos in South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois or Michigan. The Indianapolis Zoo and St. Louis Zoo are the only others nearby with elephants.
“We frequently get even telephone calls inquiring whether we have elephants at the zoo because they want to see them,” Wikenhauser says.
The new 20,000-square-foot Elephant Care Center has a recreation room, five individual stalls for training and husbandry and expansive space for enrichment activities. In addition to the new care center, the 1.6-acre outdoor habitat has completely changed and grown. The new habitat is four times bigger than the entire former elephant exhibit.
“It’s just something that is going to be really unique certainly here in the Midwest and a real opportunity for people to come see,” Wikenhauser says.
Wikenhauser says not only does the new exhibit allow people to see one of the zoo’s most popular animals in a new way, but it gives the zoo an opportunity to spread conservation messages.
The Conservation Outpost will educate visitors about elephants through audio and visual presentations. Visitors can take action by signing a petition to ban the ivory trade in Wisconsin. Elephants are listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Wikenhauser says the zoo is committed to giving the animals the best life possible. The new exhibit can accommodate up to five elephants. Currently, the zoo has two elephants, Ruth and Brittany, and plans to look into ways to bring more elephants to Milwaukee in the future.
In addition to the new elephant exhibit, the zoo is opening two new mixed species exhibits. The African Forest houses the bongos and yellow-back duikers. The Impala Plains features zebras, impalas and African crowned cranes.
The elephants and two new exhibits are phase one of the entire Adventure Africa project. The next two phases will introduce new exhibits for hipphippopotamus and rhinoceros.
“This first phase of the Adventure Africa project showcases African elephants and the various state-of-the-art amenities and renovations necessary to give these animals the best possible care throughout their lives,” Wikenhauser says. “This is an exciting time for the zoo and our visitors, and we couldn’t be happier.”