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The Cincinnati Zoo has 4 new elephants

four elephants in an indoor enclosure with a big pile of dirt
Courtesy
/
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
The four elephants include two females and their young male calves.

The Cincinnati Zoo's newly constructed Elephant Trek has its first inhabitants. Four Asian elephants are settling into their new accommodations after arriving Sunday, Nov. 5, from the Dublin Zoo in Ireland.

The elephants named "SheRa," "Kabir," "Anak," and "Sanjay" were relocated to Cincinnati based on a recommendation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums' Asian Elephant Species Survival Plan and the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria's Endangered Ex-situ program.

"We are calling them our Irish elephants even though, of course, they are Asian elephants. But they came to us via Dublin, Ireland. So affectionately, they're our Irish elephants," says Christina Gorsuch, director of animal care at the Cincinnati Zoo.

"They've been so calm and curious and just exploring the barn. I've literally never seen any animal new to a zoo settle in this quickly. They're just so happy to be with each other," she adds.

elephant next to a pile of dirt flings dirt in the air while kicking leg back
Courtesy
/
Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden
Sanjay is a 5-year-old male and the son of Anak.

Gorsuch says the move has been in the works for five years. The two zoos began discussing the plan as Cincinnati prepared to expand its elephant yard and the Dublin Zoo's two alpha females were showing signs they were ready to separate. Elephants are matrilineal, meaning the males leave and the females all stay together.

"Asian elephants will reach a certain size heard — usually when it's around six or eight adult females — and then they leave," according to Gorsuch.

The new arrivals are being kept apart from the zoo's existing elephants until bull elephant "Sabu" returns from loan and can be introduced first. Sabu is currently at the Columbus Zoo, where he was sent last year on a breeding recommendation. Once Sabu is introduced, females "Schottzie" (SheRa's aunt), "Mai Thai," and "Jati" will join the herd.

Cincinnati's three females are not related so this is a step toward creating a habitat that is more like what elephants would experience in the wild. When Sabu returns, Gorsuch expects he'll a "stabilizing force" for the entire herd, teaching the other males to be "good, gentleman bulls" and ideally breeding with Anak and ShiRa.

"All females will stay here and live here their entire lives, up until a point where our herd reaches a size where there's a natural, smaller herd to send off to another zero just like Dublin did for us. The bulls will stay in the family group until they're teenagers — somewhere in the age of 12 to 14 — and then they'll go to either other zoos either to be with other bulls or to be part of a new herd," Gorsuch says.

RELATED: Cincinnati Zoo bids (temporary) farewell to 'Sabu' the elephant

Zookeepers in Cincinnati and Dublin have been working together for several weeks to prepare for the move. Several members of the Dublin care team are in Cincinnati to assist with the transition.

"We are sad to see them go but thrilled that they will be in this great new facility," says Miguel Bueno, general curator at Dublin Zoo, in a statement. "Their departure will allow us to move forward with breeding recommendations that we have for our remaining female elephants who are awaiting the arrival of a new bull to resume our successful multi-generation breeding program."

Schottzie, Mai Thai, and Jati will remain on display in the Elephant Reserve for now. SheRa, Kabir, Anak, and Sanjay will not be visible in person for several months, though the zoo says it will post updates on social media. Elephant Trek — a five-acre exhibit with overhead feeders, trees, mud wallows and swimming pools — is set to open to the public next summer.

RELATED: New Elephant Yard Coming To Cincinnati Zoo

Cincinnati looked to Dublin in creating the new space. Designers consulted with keepers at the Dublin Zoo while drawing up plans for Cincinnati's Elephant Trek.

There are three recognized species of elephants: African forest elephant, African savanna elephant, and Asian elephant. All are considered under threat of extinction. The AZA estimates there are approximately 40,000 Asian elephants remaining in the wild, and they've been declared an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Meet the elephants

SheRa (known at the Dublin Zoo as Yasmin, she's been renamed in tribute to a longtime Cincinnati Zoo donor)

  • 32-year-old female
  • Mother of Kabir and Anak
  • Related to Cincinnati Zoo elephant Schottzie

Kabir

  • 6-year-old male
  • Son of SheRa

Anak

  • 20-year-old female
  • Mother of Sanjay

Sanjay

  • 5-year-old male
  • Son of Anak
Updated: November 8, 2023 at 3:40 PM EST
This story has been updated with additional details from the Cincinnati Zoo's Christina Gorsuch.
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Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.