Elephants Ranchipur and Cha-Cha Unpack Their Trunks in San Diego
So visitors who pose next to a model of a saber-toothed tiger can then see its cousin, the jaguar, nearby. And for the first time in 60 years at the San Diego Zoo, the California condor flies again, a bird saved from extinction through the San Diego Zoo's recovery program.
How did the four-year, $45 million wildlife paradise come to be? "It has been proven through DNA science that the Columbia mammoth of 12,000 years ago was a direct relative of the Asian elephant we have today," Elephant Odyssey ambassador Rick Schwartz tells PEOPLE Pets. "So we looked at this as an opportunity to talk about extinction and then move to the next step and talk about the current state of affairs for similar animals around the world."
In order to do that, the zoo partnered with Botswana-based Elephants Without Borders for its Project Elephant Footprint campaign, which encourages people to adopt the footprint of one of three elephants being tracked in Africa to study their migration patterns. Those who sign up receive biweekly blogs from the field and regular movement updates with maps.
Many see the exhibit's partnership with Project Elephant Footprint as a great way to engage the public in the plight of these elephants. "At Elephant Odyssey, not only are you transported 12,000 years ago to see the California landscape where woolly mammoths existed," says Dr. Michael Chase, the director of Elephants Without Borders, "you are set on a path to ensure that the current generation of elephants won't follow in the footsteps of those mammoths."
Adds Schwartz: "This is the first step for us as a zoo and a society to think globally and act globally because our guests can get involved."
As for Ranchipur, Cha-Cha and the other elephants living at the exhibit, they're obviously enjoying their new digs. "They are exercising constantly, walking, it is a challenge to get their food, so they are mimicking what elephants do in the wild," says Chase. "It's fantastic."
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