It’s elephant time.
The Reed Family Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley exhibit officially opened to the public Friday morning after a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
It was the first time the general public got to meet the six new elephants that arrived at the Sedgwick County Zoo from Swaziland in March.
“What an exciting journey this has been in bringing these six remarkable animals to join our Stephanie at the Sedgwick County Zoo,” said Mark DeVries, the Zoological Society board president. “This exhibit will be one of the most cherished spots at your zoo for many years to come.”
Sedgwick County Chairman Jim Howell said the exhibit enhances the community’s quality of life.
“These elephants don’t need to worry about their food or their water supply. They don’t need to worry about poachers,” Howell said. “Their biggest worry is whether or not they can get to hidden treats in the wall before their friends. This is like a five-star hotel for elephants.”
The Association of Zoos and Aquariums CEO and interim president Kris Vehrs also spoke at the event.
“The Sedgwick County Zoo is also pushing the envelope with this new habitat,” she said. “(The zoo) is going to continue to push … us to get even better on our elephant standards. Because there is no thing that is more important than how well we care for these animals.”
The largest cheer from the crowd was for zoo director Mark Reed, for whom the exhibit was named.
“This was the largest project that has ever been taken on by your Sedgwick County Zoo in this community,” Reed said. “This is the best elephant exhibit in North America and it exceeded all our expectations.”
After the ribbon-cutting, visitors streamed into the exhibit to see the exhibit and its elephants.
“We’ve waited so long for these things,” Michelle McKenzie said. “They did a great job (on the exhibit).”
“I couldn’t wait to come over here,” Jackie Price said. “I love these animals.”
“I sincerely hope they’re happy,” she added. “They’re not free anymore.”
Linda and Allyn Loewen, who were able to see the exhibit more than a month ago, complimented the work the zoo staff had done to get the exhibit ready for the Memorial Day weekend.
“At that time, there was no grass or anything yet,” Allyn said. “A lot of the tree planting and all that was just under way. That was a huge project.”
Roger Martin, who is a zoo member, said the exhibit does a lot to boost the zoo’s reputation.
“I think it’s fantastic, particularly for the future of the elephants,” Martin said. “Hopefully one day this will be an acting breeding facility to help enhance the species.”
The zoo says the exhibit is the third largest elephant exhibit of its kind in the country. It includes an elephant barn and the “world's largest elephant pool.”
Boat rides at the new exhibit start on Saturday. Visitors will be able to be in the same body of water as the elephants. County spokeswoman Melissa Graham said the boat rides will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. about every 30 minutes.