Confronted by new rules set by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, some zoos decided to give up their elephants. To the benefit of Wichita’s quality of life, and to the credit of area donors, the Sedgwick County Zoo now plans to acquire even more than the four it was talking about last fall and to take a leading role in conservation.
The zoo expects to receive six African elephants, pending approval by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in a partnership with the Dallas Zoo, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, and a wildlife trust in the drought-stricken southern African nation of Swaziland. The 18 elephants must be exported or culled to allow more room for endangered rhinos.
The Sedgwick County Zoo’s five females and one male, which could arrive in a couple of months, will join 44-year-old Stephanie in the Elephants of the Zambezi River Valley exhibit, which is set to open in May. The Sedgwick County Zoological Society raised $10.6 million for the exhibit, including $5.3 million from Sedgwick County for a barn.
Two Sedgwick County commissioners who fought the expenditure – and are now part of the controlling commission majority – advocated the zoo scale back its plans or even forgo AZA accreditation. And commissioners voted last month to pare back promised zoo funding for 2016 by $238,000.
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But under the visionary leadership of director Mark Reed, the zoo has never stopped striving to improve itself and its visitor experience, inspiring enthusiastic community support. The bold new role in African elephant conservation should help ensure Wichita’s zoo remains the top outdoor family tourist attraction in Kansas and among the best zoos in the nation.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman