YULEE, Fla. – The first herd of 12 Asian elephants arrived safely in their new forest habitat at White Oak Conservation, a refuge for rare species funded by philanthropists Mark and Kimbra Walter, according to a news release.
They will be joined by up to 20 more former circus elephants as soon as additional areas are completed.
These 12 female elephants, ranging from 8 to 38 years old, previously traveled with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The herd includes two sets of full sisters and numerous half sisters.
“We are thrilled to give these elephants a place to wander and explore,” Mark and Kimbra Walter said in a prepared statement. “We are working to protect wild animals in their native habitats. But for these elephants that can’t be released, we are pleased to give them a place where they can live comfortably for the rest of their lives.”
The elephants were together for the past few months, socializing and creating bonds before arrival.
“Just taking it all in and seeing how they’re sorting themselves out, what they’re exploring and how they’re interacting with one another, but also what they’re choosing to do,” Amy Mathews, elephant manager at White Oak Conservation, told News4Jax on Monday.
To get to White Oak, the elephants were moved 200 miles in pairs in customized trucks. Throughout the journey, the elephants were accompanied by their veterinarians and animal care specialists. At WhiteOask Conservation, they were released into a habitat of pine forests with ponds, wetlands and open grassland.
Asian elephants are endangered in the wild. Only 30,000 to 50,000 wild Asian elephants remain.
White Oak Conservation is a one-of-a-kind, 17,000-acre center dedicated to the conservation and care of many species, including zebras, gazelles and now elephants.
White Oak Conservation continues to conduct limited scheduled tours due to the pandemic, but visitors cannot currently visit the elephants while eight additional habitats and two barns are under construction.
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