The long wait for the elephants is over.
The Sedgwick County Zoo’s Reed Family Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley exhibit is set to open to the public on Friday with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
It’s the grand opening of the zoo’s most expensive exhibit. Longtime zoo resident Stephanie and six new elephants from Swaziland will live in the exhibit and the zoo’s elephant barn at the edge of the exhibit.
Some zoo members had the chance to see the new exhibit during a special preview a couple of weeks ago.
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“Everyone was very excited to meet the new elephants and see their new home and see Stephanie out and about exploring,” zoo spokeswoman Melissa Graham said.
“We had great attendance, beautiful weather for our member preview days,” she added.
That might not be the case this weekend. Rain is expected parts of Friday and Sunday.
“The entire weekend is going to be busy at different times … depending on what the weather does,” Graham predicted. “But it’s going to be busy.”
As for how the elephants fare in the rain, Graham said “they’re not too fond of it at the moment. We’ve still got to work that out.”
Zoo director Mark Reed, zoo board president Mark DeVries and Sedgwick County Chairman Jim Howell will speak at the ribbon-cutting event.
Months in the making
The zoo has wanted to get more elephants for years, even before longtime pachyderm Cinda died in 2014.
Requirements from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums say the zoos it accredits must have multiple elephants by this September because elephants are a social species.
The zoo broke ground on the $10.5 million elephant exhibit in September 2014.
Around the same time, the Dallas Zoo, on behalf of zoos in Wichita and Omaha, applied for permits from the federal government to import elephants from Swaziland, in southern Africa. They publicly announced the partnership in September 2015.
The government approved the import after several months of public comments and scientific review. But an animal-rights group moved to block the transfer, saying elephants don’t belong in zoos because of the physical and mental toll of captivity on elephants.
The zoos went through with the import anyway, and a last-ditch legal motion to stop it was unsuccessful. The elephants arrived at the Sedgwick County Zoo and the other zoos on March 11.
Elephant keepers have worked since then to get the new arrivals acclimated to their new homes.
The AZA’s CEO and Interim President Kris Vehrs will also attend the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday. Zoo directors and assistant directors from 35 other zoos will tour the exhibit on June 9.