The two elephants, Christie, 36, and her daughter Zuri, 13, will be moving to another zoo accredited by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, putting a pause on the Hogle Zoo’s care of elephants which has spanned over 100 years. While there is no set date for the transfer, the elephants are expected to move this fall.
The zoo says this transfer is to increase the possibility of Zuri reproducing by joining a multigenerational herd of elephants.
This announcement comes three years after an organization called In Defense of Animals listed the Hogle Zoo in the top ten worst zoos for elephants in North America, in part due to the small size of its herd after its third elephant died in 2015. The organization said this was in violation of AZA policy, which requires at least three elephants in an exhibit.
The Hogle Zoo defended itself at the time, saying it was working to increase the size of the herd but that it takes time to do so.
The zoo has been training Zuri for “voluntary artificial insemination,” however, pregnancy has been unsuccessful due to low sperm sample options, the release said.
The other option of bringing a male elephant to Utah would take many years to fund and accommodate, reducing Zuri’s reproductive window of time, according to Amos Morris Jr., an AZA elephant consultant.
The zoo cites elephant conservation as a primary motivation for moving the elephants, as it is estimated 100 elephants are killed every day in the wild. Moving animals for breeding purposes is part of the AZA Species Survival Plan, according to Hogle Zoo’s CEO Doug Lund.
“Questions regarding what species the zoo will have in the future are being thoroughly discussed. The process is guided by what is best for animal wellbeing, guest impact, and the most effective way to contribute to saving wildlife,” Lund said.
AZA CEO Dan Ashe said Utah is “leading by example” by moving the elephants.
“Although moving Christie and Zuri will no doubt be hard on the staff who care for them every day, and the greater Utah community who love and support them, this decision is what is best for the wellbeing of these two elephants and for the future of elephants at AZA-accredited facilities,” Ashe said.
The Hogle Zoo has had elephants for over 100 years and started an Elephant Encounter program in 2005 to give guests a close-up view of elephants in an exhibit simulating their natural habitat. It is unknown at this time if elephants will return to the zoo in the future.