We’ve all been waiting for it: the elephants have been in training; keepers and trainers have been working long-long hours; construction workers have been, well, constructing. And as of Saturday, it was done!
That’s right, on Saturday I was able to watch as the historic event of four magnificent Asian elephants (Ranchipur, Cha Cha, Mary, and Cookie) moved from the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park to the Zoo’s new Elephant Odyssey exhibit. Once they were all in, the trumpeting and rumbling began as everyone (humans included) celebrated the first group of animals to call Elephant Odyssey home.
Thanks to a dedicated team that includes (but far from limited to) trainers, keepers, veterinary staff, curators, operations staff, security, an amazing team of crane operators, and truck drivers and an escort provided by our local law enforcement, the move went very smoothly.
First thing in the morning the elephants went through their morning training sessions at the Wild Animal Park, which include walking into the elephant-sized crates like they do every morning. This time was a little different, of course, because they were asked to stay in the crates and then loaded onto the flatbed trucks that were going to take them 35 miles south to the San Diego Zoo. Everyone did quite well, and thanks to a very dedicated and experienced staff, every detail was well thought out well before the day even started.
Upon arrival to the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey, the crew went to work immediately to unload the crates and let the elephants get acquainted with their new home. Cha Cha and Ranchipur were first, followed by Mary and Cookie. The elephants occasionally trumpeted and rumbled their approval as they enjoyed their dinner of hay, tree branches, yams, apples, and carrots. The staff, though not able to break for dinner yet, congratulated each other as they watched the very first residents of Elephant Odyssey settle in.
It wasn’t until the sun was setting that the first wave of us started to make our way home. (Of course, the overnight staff had already been there a while and was just getting started with their shift.) As I walked through the Zoo, empty of guests due to the late hour, it dawned on me the historic significance of the day: First, the largest exhibit in the San Diego Zoo’s history is one (large) step closer to opening. Second, we have also witnessed what can be accomplished with the dedication and planning of an amazing staff and the support of our members and community.
Rick Schwartz is the San Diego Zoo’s Elephant Odyssey Ambassador.