Why Do We Care About Elephants?

picture of two female elephants

The Challenge

The Zoo's dedication to the care of its elephants, and the protection of wild elephants, is key to our mission. Through our collective conservation, education and research programs, elephants in our care play an essential role in the survival of the species in Africa and Asia. The number of Asian elephants in the wild has diminished to an estimated 30,000 worldwide.

Asian elephants can live up to 60 years in the wild, but most do not live that long due to dangers in their environment such as poaching and habitat destruction.  The Asian elephant is on the Endangered Species List and is in real threat of becoming extinct if conservation efforts are not made to preserve the species. Our Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, a network of 223 of the finest zoos and aquariums in North America, all committed to animal well-being and conservation. We provide our elephants with excellent nutrition, exercise, veterinary care and environmental enrichment.

The Investment
The Zoo’s dedication to the conservation and preservation of elephants involves both those in the wild and in zoo environments. The need to raise awareness of these magnificent animals and the challenges they face for their survival is a growing conservation concern.

The passion of Oklahoma’s citizens who have shown such care and concern for elephants, beginning with the love affair that started with Judy the elephant in 1949, spans the decades.

The current Elephant Habitat, that covers more than 9.5 acres, was completed in March 2011. The $13 million project was possible due to the 1/8 of a cent sales tax approved by Oklahoma City citizens in 1990; the Inasmuch Foundation ($250,000 for Thai demonstration pavilion); Devon Energy ($115,000 in-kind pipe donation); and ZooFriends memberships ($250,000 minimum). The state-of-the-art exhibit includes three spacious outdoor yards, pools, a waterfall, shade structures and barn with amenities including views into the barn from a raised boardwalk.

The Next Generation

Maintaining elephant populations in zoos is essential for preserving elephants in the wild. Seeing elephants in zoos helps people emotionally connect to these magnificent creatures in a way they can't experience through books, TV programs or the Internet. In zoos, these awe-inspiring animals are powerful conservation ambassadors to educate visitors and change behaviors that positively impact elephant and other wildlife conservation.

Virtually everything we know--elephant reproductive physiology, low frequency and olfactory communication, DNA testing of elephant populations to track poached ivory, and cognitive ability---comes from studies on elephants in zoos.

Zoos breed elephants because there is a critical need to save elephants in the wild. Additionally, breeding enhances animal welfare. it is very enriching and natural for elephants to experience a birth, rear young and live in a multi-generational herd. The Zoo participates in AZA's Species Survival Plan (SSP), a cooperative breeding program to help ensure genetic diversity and demographic stability in North American zoos.

The Future

AZA institutions, like the OKC Zoo, support and generate millions in funding for elephant conservation projects. We support vital conservation work in Asia that protect elephants and their habitat, reducing human⁄elephant conflict and incorporating the talents of the people who live in their midst. As humans continue to infiltrate into elephant habitats, elephants are destroying homes or raiding crops as they migrate or forage for food. As a result, many elephants are shot or poisoned for encroaching on human areas because they pose a danger or become pests. Due to human activity, there is no longer room for elephants in the landscape

The Zoo supports the PanEco Foundation, Sumatra with a focus on elephant habitat protection, assisting in elephant/human conflict, responding to crop raids by elephants, setting up elephant corridors, promoting eco-tourism at the Tangkahan Conservation Response Unit (CRU) as well as work at other CRUs. Positive interactions include ecotourism, especially when the local community benefits from the tourist revenues. By working to save the native habitat of elephants, we also help dozens of other species through our conservation efforts. 

Love elephants? Turn your passion into action!

Click here to donate to Elephant Conservation today!