In March 2017, Twycross Zoo in Leicestershire announced its all-female herd of Asian elephants would be moving to another zoo to allow the animals to breed, thus helping to ensure the long-term survival of this endangered species. Now, Twycross Zoo has revealed that Blackpool Zoo will receive Twycross’ four elephants in early 2018.
Blackpool Zoo, a 52-acre zoo located on the north-west coast of England, is set to become the new home to Twycross elephants Minbu, Tara, Noorjahan and Esha, in spring 2018. Blackpool Zoo has recently completed the construction of what is widely regarded as a state-of-the-art elephant facility. Known as Project Elephant, it therefore presents the perfect new home for Twycross’ herd.
Despite Twycross’ current enclosure Elephant Creek meeting all of BIAZA’s (British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums) guidelines, Twycross does not have the resources to house a male bull elephant – an addition that Twycross’ elephants need in order to naturally grow into a larger family unit, especially given that two of the four females are currently of breeding age.
Through the zoo’s Strategic Animal Collection Planning and its work alongside the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP), Twycross Zoo regularly assesses the species in its care and their potential for breeding. The decision to move Twycross’ herd was reached having consulted international elephant experts, and supports scientific research that shows elephants should live in strong social groups, including bulls. In moving to Blackpool Zoo, the Twycross herd will live with Blackpool’s iconic female elephant Kate, and it is intended that once the new herd are settled together, a bull elephant will be introduced to the group.
Dr Sharon Redrobe OBE, CEO of Twycross Zoo explains: “The decision to move our elephants was not taken lightly; we carefully assessed all viable options for our herd, but as Blackpool can now boast to have one the best elephant facilities in the UK, this was the best option and it’s the right thing to do for the long-term survival of not only this herd, but Asian elephants as a species. We will of course be sad to see our girls go and our staff will be monitoring their progress as they settle in. As they go we will be making changes at the zoo – we look forward to the new developments to be announced soon!”
While the transfer is still some months away, the Twycross Zoo elephants will be transported in specially designed steel crates (each weighing 10 tons) that will provide them with the necessary comfort and safety during their journey. Twycross’ elephant keepers began positive reinforcement training with the elephants in September to voluntarily walk into the transport crates, to allow them to get used to standing inside them, making the journey as stress free as possible when the transfer happens. In addition, during the build up to transfer day, the elephant team from Blackpool will visit Twycross to meet the herd and help Twycross’ keepers with their daily tasks, to allow the elephants to get used to their new keepers.
Albert Pamies, Head Keeper of the elephant section at Twycross Zoo explains: “Once our girls are familiar with the crates, and not before, they will be transported to Blackpool Zoo two at a time, with mother Noorjahan and calf Esha travelling together in a crate big enough for both. Our elephant team from Twycross will also travel to Blackpool, and will spend several days on site to help introduce and familiarise our girls with their new surroundings, all helping to ensure the transfer process is achieved smoothly and safely, as the elephants’ welfare is paramount.”
The elephants’ new home, Project Elephant, is a new multi-million-pound specially designed 3-acre enclosure at Blackpool Zoo, which will provide a varied and naturalistic habitat for the newly formed herd. Their new home boasts a number of elephant friendly features: outside there is 2.5-acre landscaped paddock populated with trees and natural shrubbery; a deep outdoor pool where the elephants can submerge; a water canon (for hot summer days!); and inside the house itself there is soft ground with deep sand and rubber, hanging bundles of food, heaters to mimic the temperature of the elephants’ natural home range, more tree stumps, and an indoor rain machine which uses re-cycled water. The herd will also have 24-hour access to the outdoor spaces, so they can walk around and interact socially with each other as they please.
Darren Webster, Managing Director at Blackpool Zoo, says: ‘We are delighted to be welcoming a new herd of elephants from Twycross zoo after months of working with their team and experts from the European Endangered Species Programme (EEP).
“It has been a very exciting year here at Blackpool Zoo as we have watched our multi-million pound Project Elephant development take shape and we are very proud of our achievement and the opportunity the facility gives us to improve elephant management and welfare standards.
“Kate, who was the first resident to arrive at Blackpool Zoo over 45 years ago, has now moved into her new home and has settled in very well.
“We are working closely with Twycross Zoo’s specialist team of keepers and management to welcome the girls in the New Year.
“Following this, we will facilitate introductions to Kate within the new development before we open the new house in spring and then introduce a bull elephant in the future to complete the herd.”
Originating from the open grasslands, marshes, savannahs and tropical forests of India, Burma, Thailand and Sri Lanka, Asian elephants are classified as an endangered species by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Threats to wild populations include poaching, habitat destruction or fragmentation, the latter which is often exacerbated by human-elephant conflict in shared spaces.
Dr Sharon Redrobe, CEO of Twycross Zoo concludes: “Captive breeding of any endangered species by zoos helps to ensure that there are genetically healthy, self-sustaining populations which can act as insurance against the possible future loss of wild populations. Therefore, this merging of Twycross and Blackpool’s elephants is a positive step forward for Asian elephant conservation, a decision which is fully supported by the wider zoo community.”
You can visit Twycross’ Asian elephants before they move home daily from 10.00 to 17.00, except on Christmas Day when the zoo is closed. For more information on and to book tickets visit www.twycrosszoo.org or call 0844 474 1777.