A 747 carrying elephants to three zoos in the United States, including the Sedgwick County Zoo, left Africa on Thursday and will arrive Friday.
“We stand ready to welcome them to their new homes,” said Dennis Pate, the Omaha’s zoo director, in a statement.
Zoos in Dallas, Omaha and Wichita confirmed the elephants were en route Thursday in a joint statement. They said one elephant had died in December of a gastrointestinal medical condition that was “impossible to treat.”
“The three zoos were notified by wildlife managers in Swaziland of the death of one of those elephants that was awaiting relocation to the U.S.,” the statement read.
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The zoos recognized it was their duty to act promptly on behalf of the remaining 17 elephants, by relocating them quickly so they could receive the veterinary care the zoos can provide.
Joint statement from the zoos
The Sedgwick County Zoo and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium will still get six elephants. The Dallas Zoo will get five.
At the time of the death, the zoos were waiting for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to approve the permits for the import. The elephants were being housed in enclosures called bomas.
The zoos, who moved to sedate and transfer the elephants to the airport on Tuesday, said the death increased the urgency of transporting the elephants to the United States.
“The zoos recognized it was their duty to act promptly on behalf of the remaining 17 elephants, by relocating them quickly so they could receive the veterinary care the zoos can provide,” according to the statement.
Zoo officials didn’t say which airplane was carrying the elephants.
But Friends of Animals, the group that tried to block the sudden transfer on Tuesday, said in federal documents that a plane with a tail number of N919CA left Kansas City International Airport on Saturday to eventually land in Swaziland and bring the elephants to the zoos.
An anonymous source contacted Friends of Animals after the plane landed in Swaziland, setting off the rapid chain of events Tuesday that ended with a U.S. District Judge clearing the way for the import.
The plane left Swaziland for the United States on Thursday, shortly before noon local Swaziland time, or 4 a.m. CST, according to the website Flight Radar 24. It landed about 11:40 a.m. CST in Senegal, on the western coast of Africa.
We’re going to do everything we can so these elephants aren’t forgotten and that this process isn’t repeated.
Jennifer Best, assistant director of Friends of Animals’ wildlife law program
The plane took off again at about 8:12 p.m. local Senegal time, or 2:12 p.m. back in Wichita, Omaha and Dallas. It was scheduled to fly to Texas and land late Thursday or early Friday at Fort Worth Alliance Airport, about an hour from the Dallas Zoo.
It’s expected the plane would then travel north to Wichita and Omaha.
Jennifer Best, assistant director of Friends of Animals’ wildlife law program, criticized the zoos’ lack of transparency about the transfer.
She said the focus of the lawsuit has shifted from stopping the import to making people aware of the physical and mental effects of confinement on elephants.
“We’re going to do everything we can so these elephants aren’t forgotten and that this process isn’t repeated,” she said.