The Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C., has completed a major expansion to their elephant habitat, currently home to three Asian elephants, the Associated Press reports. The new habitat will draw in curious visitors by allowing them to observe the endangered animals in a uniquely autonomous environment and learn about conservation efforts.
The $56 million renovation took seven years to complete, and has transformed the old, questionably fit concrete habitat into an imitation of the elephants’ natural tropical environment. The exhibit’s nine indoor areas and seven outdoor enclosures make it big enough for the elephants to expand their heard, an important step for a species so close to extinction. It includes a large barn, a forested area, sand and rubber floors with geothermal heating to ease pressure on their joints, and an indoor Elephant Community Center, complete with a massive shower they can operate themselves. Strategic props like tires, scratching posts, and giant trees facilitate animal enrichment, according to the Zoo's website.
"We really want to engage people, let them have a good time, but at the same time let them know that every action they take impacts biodiversity and that by doing simple things, we can save species from extinction," said the Zoo's director Dennis Kelly.
Besides an up-close-and-personal view of the elephants, visitors can weigh themselves on an elephant sized scale, take a photo in the exhibits photo booth, and learn about the Smithsonian’s research into elephant reproduction, disease, cognition and migration.
Click here for the AP story.