Inadequate habitat could force relocation of Sedgwick County Zoo's elephants

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WICHITA, Kan. -- The future of the two elephants located at the Sedgwick County Zoo is no longer set in stone after new guidelines are set out by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Currently the Sedgwick County Zoo has two elephants, Cinda and Stephanie, both are endangered African Elephants born in West Africa in the 1970's and transported to the zoo in 1972. The new guidelines require that all zoos have at least three elephants in their exhibit; research suggests that elephants are very social animals and it is healthy for them have a relationship with at least two other elephants if they are in captivity. All zoos will be required to house no less than three elephants by September of 2016. The current enclosure can only hold two elephants.

The zoo wants to create a new elephant enclosure so they can keep Cinda and Stephanie, and bring in an additional four elephants. The enclosure has an estimated cost of $10,500,000.

Fundraising efforts by the zoo have raised around $4,300,000 for the enclosure and now the zoo is requesting an additional $5,300,000 from the county.

County Commissioner Dave Unruh said the zoo and county have a great relationship and they are considering investing the $5.3 million.

"They have raised a considerable amount of money," Unruh said, "but they really need our support to build a facility to house the elephants."

Commissioner Unruh said the funds would come from a reserve that the county has built up. He believes that investing money into the zoo would be a good decision, one that would keep the zoo rated in the top 10 nationwide.

The location of this proposed enclosure would be put on zoo property; where the elephants are currently house would be used for something else. The details on what the proposed enclosure will look like have not been released, but local firm GLMV Architecture was hired to make the design.

The Sedgwick County Zoological Society Board President Scott Ochs says that if a decision is not made within the next three weeks, the zoo will start looking at locations to relocate the elephants to.

"If we don't start turning dirt by October of this year, we will start looking at relocating the elephants," Ochs said.

Ochs is confident that the county will invest in the zoo and has meetings set up with commissioners to discuses the issue further.

If approved, the habitat could serve as a location for the elephants to breed, meaning the Segwick County Zoo could serve as a partner to build up numbers of the endangered elephant species.

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